Tips for Successful Parent Teacher Conferences

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Effective parent communication is a critical component of being a teacher. Parent teacher conferences are one method to communicate successfully with parents. However it is important to note that you should never wait to discuss a pressing issue until parent conferences. Parents want to be informed of significant issues quickly. Waiting to inform them of something you have known for a couple of weeks or even a few days can potentially undermine the conference.

Parent teacher conferences have two significant flaws that effective teachers overcome. The first is that you rarely get the parents to attend that you truly need. Instead, you mostly get the parents of students who excel academically and are well behaved. This is no coincidence as there is a direct link between academic success and parental involvement. The other issue is that parent teacher conference attendance decreases significantly as students get older. The reality is that middle school students especially and even high school students need their parents to be just as involved as they were in their elementary years.

Parent teacher conferences can be an exceptionally beneficial tool for teachers. Positive changes can occur as a result of a parent teacher conference. It is the teacher’s job to conduct a meaningful conference and to entice parents into attending these conferences. The latter can be especially challenging.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is a key component of conducting a successful parent teacher conference. Planning should start 3-4 weeks in advance to ensure that the parents have plenty of notice. The first step is to send out written notification of the conference giving them the opportunity to select a time to attend.

It is always necessary to send home reminder notes about a week in advance.

For parents who do not return a note indicating they are going to attend, take the time to call them and personally invite them to the conference. This is especially crucial for getting those parents who you truly need to see to attend. Finally, send home reminder stickers immediately before the conference reminding parents of the time they selected to attend.

Be Prepared

Preparation begins with having your room organized and clean. A dirty room is a turnoff for parents and can become a distraction. If you haven’t changed bulletin boards in a while, then do so before the conference. Have student assessment data, student grades, and student work samples ready to present to parents. Have these things laid out for the parent to look at when they arrive. Part of preparation is to ensure that you stay on schedule. If a particular conference goes over time, the next parent may get frustrated and leave.

Have a Purpose

Having a purpose goes hand in hand with preparation. Each student has their own set of unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Jot down a few notes on each student before the conference. These notes should focus be the focal point of the conference.

They should be centered on one or two key things that you believe would benefit that student the most. In addition to going over these needs with the parents, it is important to give them some instructional strategies, suggestions, or activities to that they can do at home to help improve these areas. Never tell a parent that their child is perfect and that there is not anything in which they can improve. There is always something you can give them that they can work on at home even if they are an exceptional student already.

Make them Welcome

Parents should always feel welcome to visit their child’s classroom. Greet parents when they come in your class. Shake their hand, look them in the eye when you talk to them, and smile. Engage them in a few minutes of small talk before you get to the nuts and bolts of the conference.

Never conduct a meeting from behind your desk. It can make parents feel uncomfortable. Instead, set at student desks (if they are large enough) or at a table. Tell them that they are always welcome to visit your class. Let them know that how they can contact you if they have questions. Finally, let them know that you appreciate them for coming when they leave.

Be Positive

Being positive isn’t always easy to do, but there are always a few positive things that you can come up with about any student. Make it a habit to begin and end the conference with something positive. Include those things in your notes of things to discuss. Try to put a positive spin on the negative things by letting them know that every situation can improve. Give them suggestions on how to help their child improve in those areas whether it is an issue with academics or classroom management.

Listen

Parents often have concerns, questions, or even suggestions that could benefit their child. Give them an opportunity to express their feelings. Listen to what they have to say. Many frustrated parents simply need to vent. They often see the same things at home as you see at school. Sometimes parents provide valuable information for teachers if they will listen. Parents can provide you with a lot of critical background information or personal information that may explain why a student behaves a certain way or struggle in a particular area. Listening could provide you with the information needed to help the student.

Offer Incentives

There are parents that will never come to parent teacher conferences no matter what incentive is provided. The best incentive to get parents to attend is to offer bonus points to students whose parents attend. Many students will talk their parents into showing up if they know they can help improve their grade. It is important that is only for a bonus and not a daily grade. Ultimately a student can’t control what their parents decide, so they can’t have it held against them, but it is okay to reward them if their parent shows up.

Another incentive would be to offer some type of snack or food like homemade pie, ice cream, or cookies. It may not draw parents in, but it could help keep parents attending your conferences throughout the remainder of the year if the food is tasty enough.