At least twice a year, teachers get organized for a few late nights with back-to-back-to-back parent-teacher conferences. Are they a lot of work? Absolutely. But parent-teacher conferences are also a fantastic opportunity to sit down one-on-one with your students’ parents to discuss their child and how they are traveling socially, emotionally and academically.
We all know how crucial parent involvement and communication are in the classroom. Getting the most out of these short but crucial conferences is imperative to the smooth running of your classroom — you want to make parents feel heard and also get their buy-in so they can help their children learn, and you can be partners in a child’s education.
It’s important to note that some of these tips include actions that are taken during the year to ensure both the teacher and the parents get the most out of these interviews.
How to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences
Here are my top tips for the all-important parent-teacher interviews.
1) Give Plenty of Notice
Send out the invites to your parents as far out from the scheduled dates as possible. Many parents have sibling interviews they need to work around and many are also full-time workers. Providing them with ample time to get organized will ensure you get more parents attending.
Although this may be something your school already has on the calendar or may even be something the school will send out emails or robo-calls about, it doesn’t hurt to do your own communication so you can manage your own schedule.
I sent a table home with the dates and times that were available and asked the parents to label three boxes with the numbers 1,2 and 3 with their preferences for dates and times.
2) Get Organized
The more organized you are the better! I used manilla folders for each student, I made sure that in each folder I included any assessment or student work that I felt needed to be used during the interview.
As a self-contained teacher, I always made sure that I had the latest reading assessment, a writing sample, and a recent math assessment.
3) Be Welcoming and Plan the Environment
Put yourself in the parents’ shoes. They are often concerned and a little bit anxious about what might be discussed during the parent-teacher conference. Create an environment that is inviting, comfortable and welcoming. I didn’t like to set up the interview with a desk/table in-between as I felt this created a divide between the parents and myself. I often set it up on the side of a table.
When they arrive, ask how they are doing or maybe ask about the family. Offer them a snack (leftover Halloween candy, anyone?). Most of all smile!
4) Use a Conference Template
Sometimes the parent-teacher interviews can get a little nerve-wracking for you as well! Having a parent-teacher template that you can work off means that you won’t forget to say all the things you want to say with each set of parents, and if you get flustered (been there, done that!), you can refer to the template.
5) Remember the Sandwich Effect
Often, you may need to bring up tricky issues about a particular student’s behavior, work ethic, or level of skill. I have always tried to use the ‘sandwich feedback’ concept. Basically, you start with something positive and encouraging, then you talk about the issue you need to discuss, followed by something else encouraging or positive.
A simple strategy, that has always helped me bring up tricky issues with parents.
6) Set up a Play Station
As much as some schools advise parents to leave their children home on parent-teacher conference night, it’s not always possible for parents who cannot find (or maybe cannot afford) a babysitter. Prepare a place in the classroom for kiddos to grab a book, play games, or even just to color. These coloring pages are all free!
A fun craft activity to do with your students to create a funky turkey.
A coloring worksheet that can be used to introduce fractions or symmetry.
A snowman coloring sheet.
A tree mindful coloring sheet.
7) Use Evidence
When providing feedback discuss both strengths and weaknesses. Use the student’s portfolio of work to explain what you are saying.
For example, if you are talking about writing, you may be discussing how the student enjoys writing and is improving all the time. If an area they may need to work on is ensuring they use adjectives to make their writing more interesting, show an example to help explain what you mean.
8) Anticipate Possible Questions
When planning for the parent-teacher conferences, have a think about what each parent may want to talk about. Or possible questions they may ask.
For example, if you know that Thomas has been having issues with his friends in the playground and you have spoken to his parents before, it is likely they will want an update as to what you have noticed and ideas for some more possible strategies or solutions to help him. Make sure you are organized for these questions and have some ideas!
9) Avoid Using Terms That Only Teachers Know
As teachers, we love a good acronym and different teacher terms that get thrown around can get really confusing for parents. Make sure that if you are going to speak in ‘teacher talk’ that you explain what the acronym or teacher term means. For example, you may be talking about an IEP with a parent who hasn’t been through the Section 504 process yet. Make sure you explain what IEP stands for.
10) Communicate All Year Round
Nothing that you discuss at parent-teacher conference should be surprising to the parents.
If you have communicated effectively with parents and raised concerns as they happen, the parent-teacher conferences should be more of a follow-up to discuss how things are going. Being open and honest all year round will ensure that you have a good working relationship with the parents of your students.
I also found sending home weekly class newsletters meant the parents felt involved and included the whole year round. This meant that the valuable parent-teacher conferences were spent talking more about the student, rather than what the whole class has been learning about.
11) Discuss Strategies
Discuss strategies, actions, or goals that you want to set for their child with tips and actionable strategies for parents. This can go a long way toward making parents more receptive to any criticisms of their children as you’re not simply telling them what’s wrong. You’re helping them help their kids.
If you are bringing up a social issue, discuss how are you going to help their child overcome this. If you are talking about an area academically that they are struggling with, discuss what are you doing in the classroom to help.
What are some strategies of things the parents can do at home to help their child? It’s all well and good to talk about these issues, but you need to provide the parents with ways to overcome them.
12) Finish with a Positive
Make sure you finish with a positive about their child. Some parent-teacher conferences may get a little difficult if there are a few issues to bring up. But, always leave the parents with a positive thought as they leave the classroom.
Need more tips on how to build a relationship with classroom parents? We’ve got experts tips in How to Build A Parent Teacher Communication Strategy That Actually Works.