Remember that the sole purpose of a conference is to allow the parent and teacher to understand more fully the student’s performance in school and ways to enhance that performance. Communicate this purpose to parents. Keeping this in mind keeps the focus of discussion efficient and productive and discourages extraneous issues.
A note to parents suggesting issues to think about before the conference can be helpful in making the conference productive and setting the scene for mutual information sharing and problem solving. List some possible questions the parents may want to ask such as:
- What are my child’s areas of strength and weaknesses?
- Is my child involved in any special instruction?
- What mathematics or reading group is my child in?
- What method is used to evaluate or grade school work?
- What is teacher’s policy on homework?
- Are there any special problems relating to discipline or socialization?
- What can I do at home to help my child improve in a difficult subject?
- How well does my child communicate?
- Is my child motivated?
- What are the learning objectives for each subject during the current report card period?
- What specific suggestions for improvement does the teacher have for my child?
Encourage the parents to discuss the planned conference with the child, asking of there is anything the child would like the parent to see or discuss. Point out that it is a good idea for parents to confer with the child after the meeting, relating to the student any appropriate information learned in the conference and reinforcing the idea that the teacher and parents are working together in the child’s best interests.
In preparation for the conference, gather any information pertinent to the student’s performance: grades, sample work, standardized test scores, attendance reports, and other pertinent data. It is also wise to have on hand information about rules and procedures that parents have received prior to the conference. Be prepared to discuss each child in terms of:
- Ability to do school work,
- Grade levels in reading and math,
- Special interests and abilities,
- Relationships with other children,
- Level of self-esteem, and
- Behavior in and out of class.
As the conference begins, greet the parents in a warm, friendly manner so they will be comfortable in asking questions and sharing in the discussion. As you talk with the parents, keep in mind these four principles:
- Speak in an everyday language. Avoid the use of education jargon that tends to confuse the message and to distance the parents from the purpose of your conference.
- When describing student behaviors, describe the circumstances and conditions surrounding the behavior. This allows the parents to understand their child’s behavior in the context of the situation when it occurs.
- Throughout the conference, invite questions and comments from the parents, responding with positive comments about their contributions. Communicate your understanding of any difficulties they are experiencing with the child, yet maintain a focus of student performance.
- Avoid emotionally charged words that alarm parents and prevent them from objectively exploring their child’s progress. Labels such as “hyperactive” or immature” are detrimental to parent-teacher communication, as are polarizing words such as “humanism” and “permissive.”
As you begin to conclude the conference, summarize important topics of discussion, checking with parents for mutual understanding of important issues and plans of action. As the parents prepare to leave, encourage them to get in touch with you later if they wish. Convey your appreciation for their interest and involvement in their child’s schooling.
Write a brief anecdotal record on the conference for future reference.
Some additional tips for successful meetings with parents or guardians:
- Don’t wait to make contact until it’s time to schedule a conference. Send parents/guardians a memo or newsletter when the school year starts or even prior to the start of school.
- Start an anecdotal record for students with serious behavioral or learning problems.
- Schedule adequate time. Remember to allow yourself enough time to write notes after one meeting and before the next conference begins.
- Try scheduling your conferences at unconventional times and places to accommodate the differing needs of today’s families.
- Consider creating a fact sheet about your classroom to give to parents at the conference. Make clear to parents your expectations and important due dates as well as your policies on late homework, absences and makeup work.
- Make parents or guardians feel welcome. Post a sign outside the room with your name, the room number and your conference appointment schedule clearly marked. Try to arrange conference-style seating, rather than sitting behind your desk.
- Arrange for special assistance in advance. If, for example, the parents of a student have difficulty with English, you might arrange for someone who speaks their native language to be present at the conference.
- Set a positive tone. Open with a positive statement about the child’s work habits, interests or abilities. Wherever possible during the conference, include good news about the student.
- Be specific. When commenting on positive or negative aspects of a student’s work, use specific examples.
- Take a problem-solving approach. Focus on the child’s strengths throughout the conference and frame any difficulties as “areas of need.” Ask for the parents’ or guardians’ opinions.
- Stress cooperation. Let parents know that you want to work together to help their child succeed.
- End on a positive note. Summarize the actions each of you will take. Offer to meet again. Be sure to thank the parent(s) or guardians for coming in.
- Keep a record of the conference. Keep notes that summarize your conversations. Include specific suggestions for improvement that were discussed during the conference.