Checklist for productive parent-teacher conferences
Face-to-face meetings with parents have lots going for them. They give you an ongoing conversation, a sense of trust and shared information that will help you help students.
There are three stages in any parent-teacher conference: before, during and after.
- Be crystal clear on the purpose of the conference when you invite parents. Provide the date, time, place and who should attend, taking into consideration the makeup of the child’s family. Having the student attend is a matter of choice.
- Take parents’ schedules into account. If possible, allow some evening or weekend sessions to accommodate working parents.
- Coordinate times with other staff if more than one conference is being scheduled. Allow at least 10 minutes between each session; generally, each session should last no longer than 30 minutes.
- Give yourself time to cool down before contacting parents about student behavior that still has you feeling angry or upset.
- Discuss no more than three topics.
- Send home a school map and make sure your name is on the door so parents can easily find your classroom.
- Request an interpreter if parents are not conversant in English.
- Display student work and, for multiple conferences, set up a waiting area with snacks and toys. Check with your principal and parent leaders to see if the school can recruit students to baby-sit.
During the meeting
- Be sure to greet parents as they enter your room. Remember, parents are even more nervous than you are, so try to make them feel comfortable.
- Encourage conversation by sitting next to the parent rather than at your desk. Put chairs near a table where you’ve laid a folder containing samples of the child’s work, attendance records and
- Don’t take notes during the conference. Immediately after the session, jot down highlights for follow-up.
- Tell parents you would like to outline your observations first and then discuss them together. Frame your overview this way: what, why, how and when.
- Sandwich any negative comments between positive observations. Say, “Last week, Barb did really well writing paragraphs. But, as we moved into essays, she struggled with punctuation and using connectors between paragraphs. On the other hand, she has a real flair for math.” Provide concrete examples supported by student work; avoid generalities. And never compare a student to another classmate or sibling.
- Listen attentively to what parents have to say. Before responding, paraphrase what you’ve heard; for example: “So your concern is that Barb needs more individual help in writing?”
- Outline what has been done to help the child, and then recommend assistance available at the school or in the community. Draw parents into what should be a collaborative venture by saying something like, “Let’s work on this together.” Then incorporate their suggestions into a plan of action.
- Make sure some of your suggestions include activities parents can do at home.
- Take time to get to know parents. Ask about their interests, jobs and home routines. Also ask about the child’s interests, talents and challenges.
- Review the main points of discussion and the steps identified to address them. Finally, set up a protocol for following up, thank parents for coming and let them know you’re available to work with them through phone calls, e-mail or further meetings.
- Take a few minutes to record notes from your meetings, and put them in each child’s folder.
- Keep parents updated on the status of the agreed-upon action plan.
- Use multiple modes of communication. Keeping in mind that your notes may not make it home, repeat your messages in e-mails, phone calls and one-sheet classroom newsletters. Avoid using education jargon.
- Tell the student about the meeting and any further actions you and the child’s parents have agreed upon. Continue to keep students as well as parents in the loop.
- Send home individual notes to praise students for improved or outstanding work.
- Check in with parents periodically. Ask if there’s any way you can help with guidance or enrichment projects at home.
This article was reprinted from the October, 2007 issue of American Teacher.