The Parent-Teacher Conference is one of our biggest opportunities as educators, and unfortunately also one of our most squandered. I’ve seen both teachers and parents who treat parent conferences like a trip to the dentist. It doesn’t have to be that way! Educators often serve only as a Gradebook Keeper, but miss the chance to really connect with parents and establish a positive relationship for the rest of the year.
Try these strategies for improving parent/teacher conferences:
- Start by allowing parents to set the tone of the meeting. Let them talk about how they feel their child is doing. Listen to what they have to say about their child, and encourage them to share their hopes and concerns for their child.
- Relinquish your expert status and recognize parents as experts on their own children. I’ve seen way too many teachers who assume that they know a child better than parents do. They may often assume the worst about parents or that they know exactly what is best for a child. Remember that a parent may see things that you don’t as a teacher. They may know what that one thing that will help you to engage their child.
- Understand the parents as human beings. Be compassionate and empathetic. Every parent is trying to do their best for his or her own child. When sitting at the table across from parents, take a moment to walk in their shoes. Don’t just listen to respond, but try to really listen to understand. Everyone may have a different perspective on a situation. It is your job to understand each of those perspectives.
- Allow the meeting to focus on how the child is doing overall, while trying to decrease the role of data. While data can often be the easiest way to share information about a child, it might not tell the whole story. Don’t focus on the grades or the reading level. Tell a parent what makes his or her child successful. Explain the child’s strengths as you see them, and let them know what may help the child to become a better learner. You are so much more than a gradebook keeper!
- Finally, give parents hope as they exit. Parents don’t want to leave the meeting dejected and distraught from what you said about their child. Make it a conversation, and end that conversation on the most positive of positive notes. Let the parents know that you will do everything you can do to help the student. Ask what you can do in order to help. Give the parents something positive to work on or grow on.