Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

Good communication between teachers and families is essential for student success. With multiple methods of communication available—including email, texts, and apps such as Remind—teachers have many choices about how they choose to communicate with parents and guardians.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Face-to-face conferencing remains the most popular method of school-home communication, according to the results of the 2017 National Household Education Survey which reported that 78% of parents/guardians attended at least one conference that academic year.

Most schools set aside time for these valuable conferences once or twice a year so that parents and teachers can meet to discuss student academic progress and goals for the year. Sometimes, however, a few minutes is not enough time to cover important topics.

Parents and teachers may feel that there is a lot more to discuss than whether a student is meeting academic goals—many families also want to talk about social progress, accommodations and modifications for their child, behavior in and out of the classroom, and more. This breadth is predictably hard to cover in a short time.

In cases where time is limited but there is much to discuss, extra preparation is often helpful. Here are some general strategies that teachers can use to maximize the success of any parent-teacher meeting.

Communicate Before a Conference

Teacher talking to parents at parent teacher conference
Getty Images/Ariel Skelley/Blend Images

Regular communication with parents throughout the year can prevent issues down the road so that there is not as much to discuss at a single conference. Frequent communication with families is especially critical for students struggling socially, academically, or behaviorally.

Don't put yourself in a situation where parents become upset with you for not alerting them to problems sooner but don't reach out to parents only about trouble either. Proactive and effective teachers always keep parents and guardians informed about what is happening in school.

Have an Agenda

The common goal of all parent-teacher conferences is to benefit the students and both parties are valuable resources in accomplishing this. Parents should know what you will cover and what they should bring up during a conference so that time is not wasted coming up with things to say. Keep conferences organized and focused using an agenda and send this out to parents beforehand.

Come Prepared

Teachers should have examples of student work available for reference at every parent-teacher conference. Rubrics and teacher guides that outline grade-level expectations can also be helpful. Even for students performing at or above academic expectations, samples of work are a great way to show parents how their children are doing.

In the case of student misbehavior, incident logs and anecdotal notes should be prepared to show parents at conferences. Not only does this give parents proof of misconduct but it also provides a buffer for teachers—telling parents that their child demonstrates regularly behaves poorly is tricky territory. Some will deny that their child would behave improperly or accuse the teacher of fabricating the truth and it is your job to supply proof.

Be Prepared for Upset Parents

Every teacher will face an angry parent at some point. Remain calm in the face of confrontation. Remind yourself in times of stress that you don't know all of the baggage that the families of your students carry.

Teachers that are familiar with student families have more success predicting their moods and behaviors before a meeting gets out of hand. Keep in mind that administrators must be invited to any meeting with parents who have been combative in the past. If a parent does become irate during a meeting, the meeting should come to an end and be rescheduled for a different time.

Think About the Room Setup

Teachers should position themselves close to parents for comfort and engagement during conferences. Sitting behind a barrier such as a desk creates distance between you and makes it difficult to communicate.

Create an open area in your room before conferences so that families can move around to study student work, then seat yourselves together on one side of a large table so that papers can be easily passed between you. This will show families that you see them as equals and make movement less awkward.

Begin and End on a Positive Note

Teachers should begin and end every conference with a compliment or (true) anecdote about a student's strength. This frames whatever conversation will follow in a more positive light and makes tougher topics easier to discuss.

Teachers should always prioritize making families of students feel welcome and the students cared about at parent-teacher conferences. No matter what problems or plans have to be discussed, no meeting can be productive if it is bogged down with negativity and critiques.

Be Attentive

Teachers must be active listeners in any parent-teacher conference but taking notes is also important. During a conference, maintain eye contact and open body language. Parents should be allowed to speak without interruption and feel that they are being heard. After a meeting has concluded, jot down important takeaways so that you don't forget.

It is also important to always validate a parent or guardian's feelings so that they don't feel as if they've been dismissed. Parents and teachers both have a student's best interest in mind and this can manifest itself through high emotions.

Avoid Eduspeak

Teachers should avoid the use of acronyms and other terms that might confuse non-educators during conferences as they are often not necessary and get in the way. For those that must be used, explain to parents exactly what they mean and why they are important. Pause after each new point in your meeting to make sure parents are following along.

Parents and guardians need to feel like they can communicate with you and they will not feel this way if you tend to use terms they don't understand. Make your speech accessible, especially for families whose first language is not English.