Saturday, November 8, 2014

Successful Parent/Teacher Conferences

Conferences are one of my favorite nights of the year!  They reaffirm the beliefs that I already have: our teachers are great!  As parents are leaving the building, many will stop by my office, to give accolades to our teachers and praise the learning experiences their children are having throughout the year.  This is terrific informal data which supports the positive relationships and learning environment that we have created.  What a great feeling for our teachers and families! 

Fall conferences might be the 1st time teachers are meeting parents, other than the friendly, "hello" during drop off/pick up, and the occasional family night.  Conferences are a time when teachers get 10-20 minutes (depending on district) to showcase academic/social/emotional learning, goals and experiences that students are demonstrating throughout the school year.  Sometimes, parents don’t know what to expect… and neither do teachers!  Some simple things for teachers and parents to consider as conferences approach.  

Research tells us that there are 5 things parents want for their children:

1.      Success
2.      Safety
3.      Love
4.      Happiness
5.      Wisdom

Research tells us that there are 5 things teachers want from parents: 

1.       Establish child’s behavior
2.       Initiate warm conversation
3.       Get involved, monitor homework/school work/notes sent home/etc.
4.       Respond to teacher communication
5.       Good health

I am positive you could add a few more "wants" to each list.  The goal of a conference: make sure both parent and teacher “wants” are met for the benefit of our children.  When parents and teachers are able to collaborate and meet each other’s “wants,” then conferences are usually a great success, where student goals are established for the betterment of learning.  Unfortunately, on occasion, (maybe no fault to anyone) conferences might be difficult.  Some things teachers and parents should consider to avoid a negative conference:

Parent and teacher traps to avoid: 

·         Comparing student (teacher) with siblings (last year teacher).
·         Arguing, becoming negative, or being judgmental towards parent or teacher.
·         Becoming defensive:  if you made a mistake (teacher or parent), apologize and move forward, brainstorming to find a solution.  Constructive brainstorming is much better than becoming defensive. 
·         Psychoanalyzing the student (teacher) (parent).
·         Blaming each other or child.

·         Teachers should avoid:  lecturing, speaking in generalities, using professional jargon, overwhelming parents, trying to be the all knowing authority.  Remember, parents are human, they love their children, and it is hard to hear negative things about them.  We are all in this together!  

·         Parents should avoid:  taking the word of others without meeting with teacher, speculating before knowing (ask questions if you have them), demanding or being accusatory. Remember, teachers are human, they love their job and students.  Their goal is to give parents a clear picture of the school day, while setting future goals for success.  We are all in this together!

I know these seem like simple things; however, it is easy to fall into some of these traps if parents/teachers are discouraged or concerned with the developmental progress of their child/student.  Sometime you can fall into these traps due to only having 10-20 minute for your conference.  If extended time is needed from either party, let each other know and establish an agenda to support a positive and collaborative experience, keeping student success at the forefront of all conversations.  
Positive things parents and teachers can do during conferences:

·         Shake hands and welcome each other, acknowledge by name, smile and create a friendly conference environment.
·         Talk about things of interest, establishing a relationship.
·         Make friendly eye contact.
·         Have positive body language.
·         Try to appear unhurried.
·         Have a caring attitude.
·         Be a team, provide strategies with each other’s input.
·         End all conversations on a positive note.
·         Everything you talk about should focus on the student and their future goals while celebrating their success. 

For Teachers:

·        Say something positive: Show parents that you have a positive relationship with their child.  Show parents that you care about their child as if they were your own.  
·         Focus on the 5 things parents want from teachers (see above).
·         Act, instead of react.  Watch body language of parents and adjust if necessary, focusing on positive collaboration.
·         Have some suggestions ready, setting goals for behavior or academic needs.  Know your students and their academic and behavioral characteristics.  
·         Keep to your conference schedule, and if you need more time then reschedule an additional conference. 
·         Let your principal or colleague know if you need support with any of your conferences.  It is always beneficial to work as a team, collaborating to meet the needs of all students.  Parents will appreciate the extra support and ideas to increase learning and/or improve behaviors.  
·         Understand parents: there is nothing more important to them than their children, parents act out of love for their children.  

For Parents:

·         Be on time for your conference and understand that if you are 5-10 minutes late, then that will affect the entire conference schedule for the rest of the day. 
·         Focus on the 5 things teachers want from parents (see above).
·         Don’t wait until conferences to provide teachers with a list of your concerns.  Waiting months to articulate your concerns will only lead to speculation and negative feelings.  Many times a quick conversation or e-mail will answer your questions and put your mind at ease. 
·         Understand educators: the teaching profession is their calling and a life-long journey of learning.  Teachers act out of love for their students and their passion for educating children, helping them become their best.

Co-founder of Love and Logic Institute, Jim Fay, in his CD, Putting Parents at Ease, teaches a variety of tips for building relationships with others within an educational setting.  In my opinion, the ideas can support Parent/Teacher conferences.  Many of these tips are even great for supporting relationships with a spouse, friend, or family member.  Highlights are as follows:

-          Remember that people who look angry and resistant are usually hurting inside.
-          When we remember this, it becomes easier to avoid becoming defensive or angry ourselves.
-          The most powerful skill involves listening and allowing others to vent about their frustrations, before sharing ideas.
-          “Tell me more.” “What would you like to see here?” or “How long have you felt this way?” are great responses to show others how much you care.  
-          Share your ideas only after making sure that the other person is ready.  Asking, “Would you like to hear my thoughts on this?” is a good way of showing respect and testing to see if they are ready to listen.   

In conclusion, teachers, as you enter into conferences, make a great impression! Help parents believe what we already know: your classroom and school are the best, with amazing teachers for their children!  Make sure they leave your room with no doubt in their mind.  Parents should be saying, "there is no better teacher and place to learn for my child!!!!!"

Parents, I will leave you with the conference note my son’s teacher sent to her families, which truly puts conferences into perspective.  It is a letter to parents from their child.  Please keep this in mind when you are listening to the “snapshot” of your child’s learning. 

To my parents,
When you see my snapshot, remember this is a report of someone near and dear to you.  So, please don’t get too uptight if you see a blemish.  I hope you will accept me as I am.
Please do not picture me as being better than all the other children.  Remember that all children do not learn to talk or walk at the same time, nor do they learn math and reading at the same rate.  I ask you not to compare me with my brother, my sister, or the kid next door.  You can set realistic goals for me, but please be careful not to push me to succeed at something that is beyond my ability.
I want you to understand that my report card is a picture of my school progress.  This will show many things about my life at school, even some things that might surprise you.
My teacher knows me as I am at school.  You know how I am at home.  The “real” me is somewhere in between.  When those two pictures become blended with acceptance and understanding, I hope my “snapshot” will be a shining portrait. 
Your child,

It all comes down to positive relationships with teachers, parents, and ultimately students that will enhance success during conferences and throughout the year.  Enjoy conferences, making it a great experience for everyone!

Keith Howell


  1. Keith, these are a great suggestions for teachers and parents to ensure successful parent-teacher conferences. As you say, the whole theme of the parent-teacher conference should be to work together for the best interests of the student/child and if you follow the guidelines you've outlined, that shared responsibility will surely be recognized.

    1. Reed, I appreciate your input and support. I always feel that parent-teacher conferences is one of the most valuable opportunities to showcase the great things we do for our students. Have a great week!

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