Parent-teacher conferences – what are they?
A parent-teacher conference is a short meeting between a teacher and the parents of a child in the class. It is scheduled ahead of time (usually a teacher will meet with all of the parents in a dedicated week).
It is a great opportunity to:
- share academic progress with anecdotal stories and tangible examples
- discuss enrichment or intervention strategies to support learning
- discuss issues that may be interfering with a student’s learning and growth
- learn from parents so you can better understand a student’s strengths, behaviors, and needs
If you’re nervous about conducting parent-teacher conferences, don’t worry – you’re in good company! Many teachers find it easy to speak to a room full of children, but get anxious when speaking to other adults. Following these five steps will help you feel confident as you head into a parent-teacher conference season.
1. Post your conference schedule
I have the parents sign up for a specific conference time and post a schedule right outside my classroom. I put a couple of chairs outside the door for parents to use if they arrive early. In the past I have set out water bottles and little bags of popcorn with a tag that said “Thanks for popping in!” as a fun treat. I always put up a sign on the door that says “CONFERENCE IN SESSION” so that no one accidentally walks in on someone else’s conference.
2. Be prepared
When parents walk in to your classroom you want to appear calm and prepared rather than scrambling, sweating, and shuffling stacks of papers. In preparation for a conference, I create a folder for each student and fill it with notes, samples of student work, and test scores/data. I start gathering this information weeks and months before the conference so that I have accurate information ready to go.
3. Involve your students
I am a firm believer in the importance of involving students in the reflection piece of parent-teacher conferences, if possible. They know what is going on in the classroom (and in their head!) each day and can help paint an accurate picture for the parents. I have my students select work that they are proud of and examples of work/skills they need to work on in the coming months. They show them to their parents and explain why they put each piece in the specific category. I also have each student fill out a survey with information such as how they feel about the school year, something they’ve done that they are proud of, what they would like to work on (and an action plan), as well as anything they want their parents and teacher to know. We talk through this survey and set some realistic goals for the rest of the school year. Note: If the student is not present at the conference, I still have him select samples of his work and fill out the survey for me to go over with his parents at the conference.
4. Be positive!
Every parent wants to know that you like having their child in your class. I always, always, always start the conference with something that I appreciate, enjoy, or respect about the student. This sets the tone for the meeting and reminds the parents that I want to partner with them to help their child succeed. Even your most challenging students have something you can praise.
Examples of positive, encouraging statements:
- “I really appreciate how diligently Janie works on her assignments.”
- ‘I love how friendly and outgoing Connor is. He goes out of his way to make other classmates feel included.”
- “Majid is excelling in science. I love seeing his curiosity piqued and the way he works hard to solve the problem.”
- “Bianca’s spelling grades have improved tremendously this quarter. I am really proud of how hard she has been studying each week. Thank-you for working with her at home. It has made a great difference!”
5. Remain professional
You want to connect with parents and make them feel comfortable, but you need to remember you are not there to be their friend. You are the teacher. Even if you know the parents outside of school, you need to stay focused on the purpose of the meeting, stick to your conference plan, and be mindful of time. You don’t want to get side-tracked with a funny story or irrelevant topics and then run out of time to talk about the student’s progress, or worse, run over into the next parents’ conference time.
Several conversations or topics should never be discussed with parents or with other teachers in professional spaces, including:
- Speaking negatively about school administrators or other teachers
- Comparing two or more students to each other
- Discussing another student’s behavior, family, or performance
- Blaming parents for a child’s performance or struggle
- Making fun of students or their families
- Arguing with parents
- Complaining about the school or its policies
These guidelines are to protect you and help you maintain a reputation of being friendly and professional.
Well, there you have it! Five easy tips to help you run successful parent-teacher conferences.
To help simplify your planning I have created a print-and-go resource of must-have forms to ensure that your parent-teacher conferences go smoothly. It includes everything you need:
- Conference Schedule – keep track of who is scheduled for what time
- Parent-Teacher Conference Reminders – send these reminders home the week before conferences
- Conference folder cover sheets (3 templates)
- Conference folder pocket labels – glue these on each pocket of the student conference folder. Have students fill the left-hand side pocket with samples of work/projects/tests that they’re proud of. In the right-hand pocket have them self-identify skills/topics they need to work on
- Student Survey – Have the students fill this out prior to the conference. This activity sheet asks students to identify how they feel about school, skills/topics they’d like to work on and includes a place for their action plan, something they’re proud of, and something they’d like their parents and teacher to know
- Parent Comments – Send this form home and have the parents fill it in and bring it back to the conference. This sheet provides space for the parent to write things they are pleased about and any questions or concerns they have.
- Teacher Notes – This form is for you to fill out in preparation for each parent-teacher conference. You will look prepared and organized as you discuss the different categories (student strengths, skills to work on, student behavior, and topics to discuss) with the parents.
Save yourself time with these print-and-go forms – you’ll thank yourself later!
Download them here: Parent-Teacher Conference Forms