For many, the coming weeks bring parent teacher conferences. If that engenders some hesitation, you are not alone. Parents, teachers and administrators all acknowledge the parent teacher conference system is flawed.
Teachers feel rushed to cover too much information. They might feel barraged by questions from parents who recognize they have limited time and want lots of answers. Parents regularly complain there isn’t enough time to hear all they need to help their child improve. Even the typically objective wikipedia cynically describes parent teacher conferences as: Meetings generally led by teachers who take a more active role in information sharing, with parents relegated mostly to the role of listeners.
It’s not that schools don’t want to fix the system. It’s just logistically challenging. See the side bar for a quick read on one school’s creative approach. Meanwhile, teachers can try the following suggestions to make the most of a short time slot. Parents might want to use this parent teacher conference tip sheet to prepare.
5 Ways to Improve Parent Teacher Conferences
- Start with Empathy. Mentally prepare for these sometimes emotionally-laden discussions. Teachers need to remind themselves that parents are driven primarily by love. They might react strongly to your feedback. Anticipate what topics might arise and how best to share your observations or concerns.
- Keep to the Schedule. Given the tight schedule, it is essential that conferences begin and end on time. No one wants to stop mid-discussion but it’s simply not fair to the parent waiting outside. Running over has a domino effect. Consider using a visual timer and placing it on the desk at the start. Politely explain that you will not be able to go over the time limit.
- Establish Follow-Up Communication Plans. Since you might run out of time, be sure to establish how best to connect, if needed, after the conference. Where possible, provide handouts to eliminate the need for parents to write things down. Also take notes on your own conference sheet so you follow-up on any agreed upon next steps.
- Start with the Big Stuff. There’s often insufficient time to discuss why a student got a B+ instead of an A-, or disrupted the class once last week. Instead, focus on bigger issues such as content-specific or homework difficulties, meaningful decline in performance from last year, or chronic behavior or social concerns at home or in school. Come prepared with very specific examples so you can provide parents a clear picture of the concern. Successfully addressing or heading off bigger problems depends on parent-teacher cooperation. Now IS the time to jump in and address major concerns to lay the groundwork for good progress throughout the year.
- Discuss Expectations. This is the best time for teachers to be certain parents understand their overall classroom expectations and whether or not the student is currently meeting or exceeding them. Teachers also should take time to understand that parents have their own expectations (maybe even within the same family!). When adults appreciate the differing demands on a student, they can be more supportive of behaviors, attitudes and needs as they arise.
Fifteen minutes is up and you might not have gotten to the student’s performance on any specific test or project. That’s okay. Have copies of work or tests ready for parents to look over at home. If they have concerns and you covered the points above, everyone knows exactly what the next steps should be.