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Seven Simple Tips
Meeting with parents can be a great way to learn more about what is going on in your students’ lives. The more you know about your students, the better you can meet their needs. For some parents, conference time can be stressful. Parents may think back to their own school days or difficulties. If their child has struggled in some way, they may be worried that you will blame or criticize them. Use these suggestions to make every conference a worthwhile exchange of ideas.
1. Before you start telling, start asking. Asking parents for feedback about how they think their student is doing in school gives parents the opportunity to give you information. Involving parents as partners in the conference situation takes some pressure off both of you. You can get the parent’s point of view and gain some insight into your student’s home situation.
2. Praise first, then guide. Parents love to hear good things about their child. Find positive things to say about each student. A great way to start a conference is talking about a student’s strengths and how you are building on them. Every student has areas where they can improve, but pick one or two to focus on during the conference. Parents can be your best asset to help a student improve his or her performance. Give them specific information about how they can help at home with one area of concern.
3. Keep parents informed. If a student is struggling, academically or with behavior, talk to the parents BEFORE conferences. Parent-teacher conferences should be a short update on progress. There should not be any surprises.
4. Provide food or beverages. Cookies and water are fine. And comfortable chairs—primary teachers, read “parent-sized." Sitting in tiny chairs may not bother you, if you do it every day, but parents may be put off, feel belittled, or at least be terribly uncomfortable. Adult-sized chairs seated around a table make for a comfortable, conversational space. Avoid putting two chairs on the opposite side of your desk. It is a conference, not detention.
5. Keep to your schedule. Post a list of appointment times and names on your classroom door and stay as close as possible to your scheduled time slots. Parents want to know if they are in the right place. If you start to run behind schedule, put a note on the list so parents know how long they can expect to wait.
6. Turn off your cell phone. Put a sign next to the list that reads, “Please turn off your cell phone during our conference."
7. If the parents don’t show up, call them. Assume something unexpected came up and they really feel bad about missing the conference. Although it is tempting to write off parents who do not attend school events as uninvolved or uncaring, it may pay off to do a little more investigating. There may be a very good reason why they couldn’t be there, so try to dig a little deeper with a phone call or email.
Make the most of parent-teacher conference time. Remember, you both have the same goal—a successful school year for their child. The relationship you build with parents will pay off in the classroom.