There are many opportunities to build trust and communication with parents throughout the school year. One of the most significant times is during parent-teacher conferences. Today, our very special guest blogger Steve Barkley has prepared five guidelines for teachers to follow as they conduct crucial parent-teacher conferences.

Conferencing with Parents

By, Steve Barkley

Parent-teacher conferencing can be a stressful time for teachers and parents. Erin Walton provides a great analogy. “It’s like speed dating – except conducted in child-sized chairs and with a marked lack of wine.”

Many teachers learn through trial and error, often having to repair communications or relationships after an unplanned comment. Usually a short amount of time is set aside for conferencing and both teacher and parents have an agenda they want to accomplish. Too often, a flood of information flows from the teacher without enough parent engagement. On the other hand, the parent may open with a question that puts the teacher into a defensive mode derailing the development of a positive parent-teacher partnership.

I have found that planning with the following five steps helps create conversations that can lead to some shared decisions for supporting student success. Consider the following best practices as you prepare for an upcoming parent meeting or conference.

Five Steps to Conducting More Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

  1. The Warm Up. Where to start? I always recommend starting the conversation with a general icebreaker comment such as the weather or recent school related event. Your goal in the beginning is to help ease the parent or guardian’s nerves. I like to start with a comment that communicates my “knowing their child”. Sarah mentioned that her grandmother has been visiting. I understand that Jason has been on a few initial college visits. Janice is really excited about the swim team’s success. Provide a pause and eye-contact after your statement encouraging the parent to respond.
  2. Identify Your Student’s Positive Attributes. Identify positive attributes that the student exhibits. Johnny seems to have such a passion for reading. April is a natural leader and excels at group work. Remember, your student is the parents’ “pride and joy.” It’s much easier to discuss the need for your child to change or improve with a teacher who has invested in knowing her well enough to identify strengths that are present and can be built upon. Michelle’s determination to complete a task, even when she is struggling, is a trait that will serve her well. Shawn has the ability to make others laugh. He has often broken a tense moment in class. When I’ve met with Trevor one-on-one, he has been sincere and reflective in our conversations. If you are meeting with parents early in the year and don’t know the student well enough yet, use a question here: What would you identify as Jen’s strengths that she brings into the start of her high school program?
  3. Identify Areas of Progress. Even if the student’s growth is insufficient and needs to increase, start with identifying learning that has been achieved. Student work samples are valuable here. Here is a piece of writing that Josh did in September and here is a November piece. Notice that the sentences are more complex, and his ideas are better organized. Kevin is showing the ability to focus on a task independently for a longer period than at the beginning of the year. Showing growth is important when discussing advanced students. On the unit pretest, Sarah showed mastery of the standard. Her work on this independent project illustrates her depth of understanding as she worked to uncover examples within our local government.
  4. Identify Areas for Growth. With the continued increase in desired student outcomes beyond curriculum (communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking etc.), parents should leave a conference with a clear understanding of where their child should be headed. If the student’s achievement is below course or grade standards, what area is a priority for closing the gap? I think building Steve’s reading stamina is important for his learning success in several areas. As Simon’s English vocabulary increases, she will make academic jumps across his classes. If meeting or exceeding the standard is the next challenge to explore, what learning to acquire new skills or “soft skills” can increase the student’s empowerment? As Jennifer discovers the connection between effort invested and learning outcome, she will feel more motivated to invest the necessary practice time. Setting a challenge learning goal can help Michael increase perseverance.
  5. Outline Ways to Work Together. The end of the conference is an opportunity to continue the conversation and build upon the parent-teacher partnership. Look to conclude the conference by identifying how the teacher and parent can support each other to aid in the student’s progress. Any role that you are asking the parent to play should be something they are comfortable doing and most likely to find success in carrying out. Avoid asking the parent to tackle a skill that you are already struggling to unlock for the student. Instead, have them work in another area that might give you more time to focus on the difficult area. If you can spend some time having Trevor read the stories to you that I send home, I’ll keep working on some critical word attack skills he needs to develop. How can parents extend learning? If Natasha and I create a goal-setting and action plan, can you ask her to review her progress with you from time to time? I have an after school opportunity for students to get extra support every Tuesday and Wednesday, can you encourage Cedric to attend once a week for the next two months?

Related PLS Course: Building Communication and Teamwork in the Classroom™

In this course, you’ll learn more about the verbal skills required for holding successful parent-teacher conferences. You’ll also reach a new level of positive communication with strategies designed to foster an emotionally engaging classroom where students are connected to school, learning, and one another.

On-Site Classes are starting soon and are available through our partners Mercyhurst University and Rockford University.
Find out more or enroll today.

About Steve Barkley:

For over three decades, Steve Barkely has served as an educational consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. A prolific published author, his weekly blog, Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud, has evolved into a go-to resource for teachers and administrators all over the world.

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