About The Author: Hi, I’m Chris Drew (Ph.D) and I run things around here. I’m an Education expert and university professor.
My first parent-teacher conference was SCARY. I was a 22 year old male fresh into the teaching profession.
I was there to meet up with about 20 pairs of parents for my class of grade 2 children.
I was shaking in my boots.
The range of parent expectations varies- a lot. And they all seemed so scary to me.
Here were a few different types of parents that I found:
- Parents who think academic outcomes are everything.
- Parents who care most about their child being happy.
- Parents who want to interview you.
- Parents who expect you to do a presentation.
- Parents who want HELP!
Personally, though, I think the best mentality is this: Parents and teachers need to see each other as being on the same team.
We need to view it as an opportunity to find a united approach to helping the student. This is the key to a successful parent-teacher conference.
In this article, I want to give some bits of advice on how to prepare for a parent-teacher conference.
I’ve got tips for both parents and teachers.
What is a Parent-Teacher Conference?
A parent-teacher conference is an opportunity for teachers and parents to meet up to discuss a child’s progress at school.
It is often a nerve-wracking experience for both teachers and parents.
Preparation for Parents
Parents, keep this in mind: 90% of parent-teacher conferences go smoothly and happily. The teacher will show you some lovely bits of progress your child has made, you’ll discuss one or two small things the teacher is currently concerned about, and you will thank each other for your time.
So remember, it’ll probably all go great.
But below are some little tips and reminders about ways to ensure it goes even better.
1. Get in a Team Mindset
A child needs a team behind them. All the team members need to push in the right direction, provide support, care and a united approach.
Many members of the “parent-teacher team” clash. It’s inevitable. But if you have a clash, approach it as a hurdle to be overcome together.
Everyone has a role to play in the team:
- Teachers have depth of professional knowledge and skills to be drawn upon.
- Parents know their child better than anyone.
- Parents have the right to make requests of the teachers.
- Teachers have unique perspectives on your concerns.
If you storm into the classroom making demands and piling up the complaints, you’re doing it wrong.
Instead, view the teacher as an incredibly valuable asset who can help your child succeed. Even if things aren’t going well right now, together you can come up with a united plan going forward (more on that later).
2. Turn up on Time
This is simple respect. You should be showing your teacher that you value them, their time, and what they do for your child.
But it also has a practical purpose. Parent-teacher conferences are usually stacked in an evening after school.
Before you there will be a conference with another set of parents. After you, another parent wants her one-to-one time with the teacher.
If you’re late, you will be interrupting all the other parents.
And lastly (from a teacher’s perspective!), please don’t cause any more worry or stress for the teacher. They are there, prepared, and waiting. So hold up your end of the bargain.
3. Come with 3 Discussion Topics
Many teachers come to my parent-teacher interviews and just expect me to do all the talking.
Your teacher will happily do that. Sure. Here’s what your kid’s been doing. Have a good night. Done.
But that’s not ideal. The best parent-teacher conference is when the teacher and parents dig deep on things the parents want to discuss.
So, have a brainstorm:
- What are your aspirations for your child? Happiness? Improved social skills? Academic development? A mix of each?
- What are your current concerns? Bullying? Your child is struggling to make friends? Their weakness in math? You tell me.
- What are your thoughts about the teacher’s teaching philosophy? Do you want to ask them questions about how they teach to get a deeper understanding of their strategy?
4. Find things to be Thankful For
Many parents turn up with a stack of concerns, worries and requests for teachers.
But remember that you need to sustain a positive working relationship with your child’s teacher for the rest of the school year.
So remember that the teacher should be acknowledged. Thank them for something they’re doing well. Or, tell them something lovely your child said about them.
A thankful, kind comment will go a long, long way for helping your relationship with your child’s teacher.
- Related Article: 47 Examples of Feedback for Teachers (from Parents)
- Related Article: 51 Short Thank you Messages for Teachers (From Students)
5. Find ways to be Helpful
Remember when I said you and the teacher are two parts of the same team?
Well, how can you help the team?
It might be:
- You can follow-up with your child on something that you and the teacher have agreed to implement.
- You can offer up your time in the classroom.
- You can commit to helping your child with their homework (on one subject they’re struggling with).
Preparation for Teachers
Teachers, remember: most parents want to know their child is happy, safe, and enjoying their education. They will be very happy to see their child’s progress and be excited to get to know you better.
Eighty percent of your conferences will be very pleasant and collegial. It’ll be a moment to check in with each other and get to know each other better.
So, get prepared, have a lot of samples of work … then relax! It will be okay.
Here are a few tips for how to survive your first parent-teacher conference.
Parents commonly complain that teachers don’t genuinely listen to their concerns. It is easy to come across as condescending as a teacher. We often think we know best – after all, we’re professionals.
But we can’t have that mentality. Even if we disagree with parents, we need to respect their perspectives and their wishes. They are the student’s carers and have their own culture, values, and beliefs that must be respected.
Plus, remember: parents are experts on their own children.
So, please, remember that this is a time to listen to the parents. Hear what they want for their child and care about their concerns.
Furthermore, this may be the parents’ only chance to express some important information that can be invaluable to you as the teacher.
So, first and foremost, listen … and take what you hear into genuine consideration.
- Related Article: 19 Metaphors about Teaching that Pop!
- Related Article: 23 Qualities of a Good Teacher
2. Get in a Team Mindset
Don’t view parents as ‘clients’ (even if they are), the enemy, or a problem.
Sure, some parents have a certain style of parenting that grates at you. Sure, you want to tell some parents to get their act together. But that is not a productive solution.
The most productive thing to do is treat parents as team members. The parents, like you, want the child to be happy and successful.
So, when asking for their help or for parent to make changes, frame your comments as you would to a team member.
- “In order for your child to succeed, I think we need to…” or
- “We have made some good progress, and your support during homework has been really beneficial for Jessica’s progress.” Etc.
3. Be on Time
To have a positive working relationship with parents, you need to respect them and their time.
One of my biggest weaknesses has been to go overtime in one parent-teacher conference, which has made me late for the next.
This sends a few signals to parents:
- You don’t value their time
- You are disorganized
- You are a poor time manager
So, now, I am strict in ending the conference at the allocated time. If parents want more time, I ask them if we can arrange a second meeting.
4. Have Before-and-After Samples of Work
This is a life saver. Here are some reasons I like this approach:
- It proves a student’s improvement.
- Parents respond very well to seeing their child’s work.
- It shows you’re prepared.
- It provides a prop for you to have something to talk about.
To stand out as a student-focused educator, here’s another tip. Pick out a piece of work that you think sums up the child’s personality.
Choose something that says to the parents: I know your child well. I’m focused on them and care about their interests and growth.
5. Be prepared across Curriculum Content.
This builds on the above point.
Have several examples of work handy across different subjects or units you teach. If you don’t have physical examples, make sure you have a few ideas on what to say about each area of the child’s learning.
One of the most frequent questions I get is: “But what about math?” or “How is she going in literacy?”
You need to be able to pivot to any curriculum area and talk about the child’s ability in that area… immediately.
6. Be honest, but show the Positives
Sometimes parent-teacher conferences get very serious. There might be issues like behavior problems, bullying concerns, or frequent absences that need serious discussion.
That’s okay, and it is important to have those open conversations.
But try to find some positives for every student as well.
It may be as simple as a memory of a time the student was helpful or something they are improving upon.
But, I always like to show I have positive regard for each student.
It also shows the parents that I’m not just picking at the negatives.
7. Use Stories
Parents want to feel like you know their children well.
There’s no better way to do this than to tell them stories about their child in the classroom.
I like to jot down small reminders of anecdotes about each child that I can refer to in the conference.
For example, you might want to say:
“I want to share with you something lovely your daughter did for her friends last week…”
By showing personal interest in the student and telling stories about them, you’re showing the parents that you genuinely care about their child and have strong rapport with them.
8. Leave with a Team Action Plan for the Growth Areas
Returning to the start, remember that you and the parents are a team. You should aim to show that you have heard the parents and will act on their concerns.
Similarly, offer the parents a few actionable takeaways, like:
- Focusing on literacy homework
- Getting some more supplies the student needs
Lastly, offer the parents the opportunity to check in to see how the action plan is going in a few weeks’ time.
Parent-teacher conferences need not be intimidating. They are an opportunity for parents and teachers to get to know each other, get more comfortable working together, and discuss the student’s progress.
With a little preparation, you can go into the conference more confident and leave with a clear action plan for working together to support the student.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.