You’ve blocked out your diary, your students’ parents have reserved time slots, and you’re ready for the parent teacher conference. But panic strikes! What on earth will you talk about for ten whole minutes?
Interacting with parents can be daunting, but having them onside can have a colossal impact on your students' learning. So, how do you achieve this? And, scarier still, how do you deliver news that parents may not wish to hear? Read on for ten tips to a tremendously successful parent teacher conference.
It may sound daunting but, you’re the teacher, you set the itinerary and guide the meeting. Taking the lead not only creates a professional image from the outset, but also ensures you cover everything you need to fit in. Ten minutes flies by much faster than you think when you’re as prepared as you’ll be after utilising all the tips in this blog. A wonderful line opener is ‘before I start, is there anything in particular that you wanted to discuss today regarding your child.’ This quickly puts parents in the driving seat and allows them to get anything off their chest that they may be wishing to discuss.
So right off, the good old saying, dress for the job you want not the one you have goes a long way. Albeit in this case you already have the job, but you may not be quite feeling it yet. So, dress for the job you have! Ensure your shirt is ironed and your shoes polished. Looking smart really does help create a professional image and that can only help get your meetings off to a smooth start.
Planning out what you wish to say creates structure for the meeting. A good guide for structure is: discuss the students’ achievements in core subjects, then move on to classroom conduct and behaviour before finishing up with social interaction. The time allocation for each will depend on the individual student’s accomplishments and needs. Of course, if one particular student really struggles with behaviour then this may be allocated more time in that student’s meeting than in other interviews.
In the week leading up to the meeting, note down anything you think might be relevant. Examples of how a student acts during group time, how they interact with their peers or how they treat teachers can all provide insightful evidence to share with parents. And being fueled with notes means you won’t be stuck without anything to say (that’s the stuff of nightmares right?) but also that you won’t miss anything important.
That student who always holds the door open for you, note it down.
That student who is struggling to maintain friendships, note it down.
That one student who has tried so hard to overcome their fear of public speaking, note it down.
Notes, notes and more notes!
It may feel like a lot of extra work to prepare, but having a dedicated book or space to jot down anything as it arises throughout the day can save heaps of time. And preparation really pays off. Being prepared means the meeting will run smoothly and ensures it is as productive and effective as possible. That’s got to be worth the extra effort, right?
Data provides that level of authority and support to whatever it is you’re trying to convey. So use it wherever possible when interacting with parents. Ensure you have up to date records of students reading levels or writing assessments when you’re discussing students’ achievements. Data will also allow you to identify areas where students may need more support, something parents are usually dying to know about. And support from parents means that the extra assignment you set has more chance of being completed or those revision questions you sent home might actually be handed in.
Let parents know how much their child means to you. Knowing their child is cared for and recognised for their strengths reassures parents that you’re on your side. This will usually make them more open to hearing any less desirable comments you need to deliver about their child.
Again, if you are needing to share something parents may not like, it’s worth taking the time to check in with other teachers to ascertain their opinion. If the challenges have been experienced by multiple teachers, on recess duty, in the library or during sports lessons, it all helps to make your case and demonstrates this is something felt across the board.
That catchy song lyric is actually very telling. Sharing news that parents may not like is always difficult. No parent wants to hear their child is struggling academically or that they find meeting behaviour expectations challenging, so it’s all about how you say it. Ensuring parents know your comments are coming from a place of love (it’s all about love today!) and that you not only recognise their child’s strengths, but appreciate them as individuals, will make them more comfortable. Then, bring in the comment you’ve been needing to share. Perhaps remembering not to call out is something that one particular student needs to work on, or sharing with their friends. Whatever it is, presenting it in a warm way lets parents know you’re willing to work with their child to help them progress in this area.
Ensure you come loaded with suggestions. One child cannot seem to pass their spelling test, identify new suggestions or strategies for them to try at home. Another cannot seem to stay on task during sessions, perhaps suggest ways you’re planning to break up activities into smaller chunks. Share with parents what you’ve already tried and suggest ways that you will approach the challenge in the future. And remember to include any way parents can help at home.
Every little person in your classroom comes fully loaded with their own personal challenges and achievements and parents are often acutely aware of their own child’s struggles. It’s worth keeping in mind that we’re all learning and that education is a process. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Phrases like, Tom is still learning to…, Rosie is working towards… are far more positive that Tom cannot… or Rosie refuses to… So, keep it open, positive and hopeful.
We hope now you’ll feel far more confident to approach your next parent teacher interview. And you never know, you may find once you adopt these ideas that you actually enjoy the meetings!