In my first years teaching, I used to DREAD parent-teacher conferences. Was I prepared enough? Would parents be happy with their child’s performance so far? What if they asked me a question I didn’t have an answer to? And HOW in the world was I going to talk honestly about a child’s poor behavior?
Teachers- I’m here to help. Using these 7 steps you will not only rock your parent-teacher conferences, but you may even begin to look forward to them like I did!
1. Create a Welcoming Atmosphere
Can I let you in on a little secret? Parents are probably just as nervous as you are. They may be worried about how their child is going to reach their reading goals. They’re hoping you haven’t noticed they haven’t had time to practice spelling with their child for the past few weeks. Or maybe they’re just not sure what to expect at all! As the teacher it’s your job to create a positive environment before they even enter your classroom! Here are a few ways I have done this over the years:
- Set up a waiting area outside your classroom door for early parents. Set up a few chairs, and a little table if you have one.
- Leave a class book out for parents to read. I like creating a silly class book the week before conferences, and it’s a great way to get parents smiling before they enter.
- Set out treats such as mints, candy, or water bottles if your budget allows.
2. Be Prepared
This step seems obvious, but there are easy ways to prepare for conferences that don’t consume your life weeks beforehand. I prepare these 4 simple things before conferences begin, and by having these ready I always feel that I have enough material to fill the entire conference (with no awkward silence!)
- Student File– At the beginning of the year I prepare a file folder for each student. I like to number these files and assign each student a number so I don’t have to remake them each year. These files contain: student/parent information, test scores, assessments, IEP information, and any other pertinent information about the child.
- Student Reflection- This is my FAVORITE way to begin a conference!! Students complete these 2-3 days before, and it is an amazing way to show you and parents how their child feels they are doing. I quickly go over this sheet with parents and let them take it home.
You can check out my student reflection sheet here:
K-3 Student Reflection
- Student Work Samples– This is optional, but I like to have work samples to show parents and send home with them after the conference. I typically have 1-2 writing samples in order to discuss their writing, grammar, handwriting, etc. If I have concerns about a student’s performance, this is a great opportunity to show evidence of that concern to parents.
- Conference Note Sheet– *Hallelujah chorus* – guys this is the absolute most important thing I prepare for conferences. It may take the most time (5-10 minutes per child) but it is WORTH IT. Seriously. If you do nothing else, fill one of these things out for each of your students and you will have your talking points and guide to effortlessly flow through your conference. It also doubles as a note sheet to jot on during conferences as well as something for parents to have to review what you talked about. You can purchase the Conference pack I use here or download a FREE conference note sheet by Edni Villar.
3. Make a Positivity Sandwich
We want parents to leave the conference feeling supported and happy, however sometimes it’s hard to deliver less-than-great news about a student’s performance, behavior, or test scores. When this happens I like to make what I call a positivity sandwich… yes, you heard me right. I state one strength their child has (every child has strengths, even if they are not academic. Maybe they come in every day with a smile on their face or are a good friend to others). Then I follow this by the area of weakness and the actions I plan to take to help their child in this area. After discussing, I follow with another strength to end on a positive note. I have had so much success using the positivity sandwich because you are really showing parents you are in their child’s corner rooting for them to succeed.
4. Speak with Authority
Let’s face it, most parents are sweet and supportive, but others can be downright intimidating. While I can’t give you a magic cure-all for those parents, I can give you this piece of advice: YOU are the teacher, and you have a degree stating that you darn well know what you’re talking about! (Read that a few times if you need to… I’ll wait). Remain positive throughout the conference- remember the positivity sandwich!- but speak with authority about what you want to share. The more confidently you deliver the information, the more trust parents will have in you.
5. Offer Suggestions
Parents want to help their child succeed, but some just don’t know how to help. Give parents 1-2 key simple ways they can help their child at home. We want parents to feel empowered, not overwhelmed, otherwise they will not follow through with these suggestions. Here are some simple suggestions I have given to my K-5 parents:
- 15-20 minutes per night on a specific, targeted academic website such as Freckle, Prodigy, Kahn Academy, Moby Max, IXL, or Actively Learn.
- 10 minutes per night of hands-on spelling practice
- Asking 3-5 questions after their child reads their library book (You could even provide them with a copy of these FREE Blooms Taxonomy Question Cards by Inspire Teachers
6. Take Notes
Throughout the conference I will make notes on the conference note sheet mentioned in tip 2. This allows me to remember what I discussed with parents as well as any questions they had (because let’s be real, you’re not going to remember all 20-some conferences by the end of the conference marathon!) More importantly, this also gives me the ability to say the following to parents when they ask a tough question:
“Great question! Let me look into that/talk to one of our specialists/find a resource and get back to you this week”
Folks, this is the KEY to feeling comfortable during conferences. It’s OKAY to not have an answer to a parent question. Instead of stumbling over your words and trying to come up with something on the spot this response allows you to respond when you have the information you need. Just make sure to follow through and reply in a reasonable amount of time (I try to get back within 2 days of our meeting).
7. Follow Up
Parents receive a lot of information during conferences, especially if they have more than one child! That is why I like to follow up with all parents within a week of our conference. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time, and can be as simple as saying:
It was so nice to meet with you and discuss [child’s name]’s progress so far this year. If you have any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out to me at [insert email or phone number]. I would be happy to answer your questions or schedule another time to meet.
You would be surprised how far this goes with parents! It shows you care about including them in this child’s educational journey (and also avoids any confused parents going to principals with follow-up questions. That is never fun!)
And that’s it! 7 steps to feeling confident and prepared to ROCK parent-teacher conferences. Teacher friends, you’ve got this. Build those relationships with parents and you’ll begin to see that they are rooting for you too! Good luck, and reach out if you have any questions. I’m rooting for you too!