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January 9, 2016

Navigating Parent-Teacher Conferences

It’s almost time for the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year. Whether this is the first round of conferences of your teaching career, or your hundredth, communicating with parents can be intimidating. Remember, despite the stress and challenge of these conferences, your mission is to partner with parents to ensure your students’ success. Here are a few tips to develop strong relationships with parents:

Engage Parents While Waiting

Parents may become impatient if they have to wait to meet with you. To create a more positive atmosphere, arrange the chairs outside of your door so parents have a comfortable place to sit while waiting for their meeting. To help parents pass the time until it’s their turn, put a box of folders containing student work in the seating area that parents can look through while they wait. Label the folders with each student’s name so the parents can easily find their child’s folder. This is a great way for parents to see what their children are doing and to get them excited about discussing their child’s progress in your class. For reasons of confidentiality, never include work that lists students’ grades. In addition to student work, you may also want to include your class syllabus and a letter that the child has written to his/her parent(s).

Set a Timer

Often, parents work full-time, which means parent-teacher conferences may need to be scheduled for the evening hours. Typically, parent-teacher conferences are packed into two or three evenings, and you will need to see parents one after another. Keeping to the schedule will be vital, so keep a timer on your table and set it as each parent sits down to talk to you. As you set the timer, explain to the parent that the conference will end as scheduled so that you are able to meet with every student’s parents, but if they have other questions remaining, they may contact you afterward.

Begin with Positives

Some conferences may be difficult, especially if a student isn’t performing well. Always start your conference with positive words about each student. Even if the student is doing poorly in your class, talk first about his/her good behavior, kind acts toward classmates, or talents. By starting with the positives, you convey to the parents that you also see their child’s strengths, not only his/her weaknesses. It shows that you take the time to look for positives first and that your main concern is ensuring their child’s success in your classroom.

Use Rubrics and Anecdotal Notes

Rubrics are great tools because they aren’t subjective. Instead, they focus only on the product. As much as possible, focus your discussion about the student on objective and evidenced-based classwork. If there are behavioral issues, use specific details to discuss them with parents. When behavior incidents happen, make sure to keep dated anecdotal notes so you’re able to reference them as needed. An easy way to do this is to write incidents on post-it notes when they occur. At the end of each day, place the dated notes into a folder with the student’s name on it. This way, when you need to access this information, it is all there in one place.

Have Suggestions as to How Parents Can Help

Be prepared to end the conference with suggestions for how parents can help at home. Prepare a handout to give to parents that outlines what will be covered during the upcoming weeks along with suggestions for how they can help their child succeed at home. If you have a class website, share it with parents and encourage them to check it weekly to keep updated about what’s happening in your classroom.

Follow-Up Letters

In some cases, when there are serious concerns about academic and behavioral issues, you may want to consider following up with a letter. The letter should document your concerns and summarize what was discussed during the conference. This allows you to have a record later in the school year if retention is recommended. Before sending such a letter, you should consult with your principal.

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