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 or guardians (or both) to discuss their child and how they are making out in the classroom — 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.
Our team of teachers has put together some of the tips they have learned from their years in the classroom to make your parent-teacher conferences more successful this year, for you and the parents and guardians too!
Explore the best teacher-created resources for parent communication!
How to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences
1) Give Plenty of Notice
Once you know when parent-teacher conferences will be held, let the parents know. You may be able to give them a heads up on the first day of school by sending home a parent note in your new students’ folders, or maybe you can put up a sign-up sheet on meet the teacher night so parents and guardians can choose the time that is best for them. When the data is getting close, don’t forget to send another note home with a reminder!
If you have people who did not sign up yet, a Google form is an easy way to offer the remaining slots to the other parents and guardians for conference night.
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.
Print out dozens of editable parent reminder notes for parent-teacher conferences, field trips, picture day, and more!
2) Get Organized
The more organized you are the better! Gather together any data you want to share with parents into manilla folders or a similar filing system and sort your folders according to the order that parents are set to appear on your parent-teacher conference calendar, so it’s easy to pull out their son or daughter’s information.
This parent-teacher conference data form makes it easy to gather a LOT of important information in one place, and you can print out a copy for your files as well as one that parents can take home with them after the conference.
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.
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) Remember the Sandwich!
Have you ever used the “compliment sandwich” when sharing not-so-good news with a co-worker? It works for parent-teacher conferences too!
You may need to bring up tricky issues about a particular student’s behavior, work ethic, or level of skill, and the sandwich effect will help soften the blow. 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.
This lets parents know that you see the positives in their children even while presenting them with your important concerns.
5) 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 can all be printed and set aside for students for those days right before the holiday break when half the class is already on vacation:
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.
6) Use Evidence
When providing feedback during a parent-teacher conference, make sure you discuss both students’ strengths and weaknesses, providing details for parents. This is a bit like the sandwich concept, but it goes a bit deeper!
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.
7) Anticipate Possible Questions
When planning for the parent-teacher conferences, think about what each parent may want to talk about or possible questions they may ask so you can have your answers at the ready.
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!
If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s OK to let the parents know you’re going to have to ask around or look it up. Keep a notepad handy (we love these DIY notepads!) to jot down questions so that you have them at hand after the parent-teacher conference and can do the necessary legwork to get answers.
8) 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.
It may be helpful to print a copy of the school acronyms for parents!
9) 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 help you have a good working relationship with the parents of your students.
Snding home weekly class newsletters can help with this. It means the parents feel involved and included the whole year round, and they’re not just hearing from you once or twice a year. 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.
10) 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.
11) 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 parents?
We’ve got expert tips in How to Build A Parent Teacher Communication Strategy That Actually Works.
Banner image via Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic