It’s almost that time! Getting ready for parent-teacher conferences can be time-consuming or stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some tips to help your conferences go smoothly.
One important thing to keep in mind is to make sure to stay positive and professional at all times. It’s not always easy, but it will benefit everyone!
Be sure to get your freebie from my free resource library for some helpful forms!
Our district allows 2 full days and 1 evening for conferences. Some teachers like to ask parents for their preferred time and you can do this if you like. I always found this resulted in everyone asking for an evening time, even if they were able to attend a day conference. So, I instead scheduled everyone myself (in pencil) before asking. Hold on before you say this is inconsiderate! I always asked for confirmation and was flexible for parents who asked for a schedule change. Better?
Send parents a reminder a week before, and another the day before, if possible. Life gets busy and you want them there, no matter what it takes!
Things to consider when scheduling:
- Siblings– coordinate with other teachers so parents/ guardians only need to make one trip to the school.
- Transportation Needs– offer phone conferences if parents are unable to get transportation. Even better, if your school provides transportation, reserve this asap.
- Translation Needs- ask who needs a translator and communicate this to your admin to ensure you have someone to help. Let your students know to communicate this to parents as well, in case they are unable to read your message.
Here are some things you can have ready in advance:
- Research– you may want to send home a letter asking parents to let you know any questions they have or topics they want to discuss beforehand. This will help you prepare for these in advance and know what to focus on. It will also save conference time. I included a sample in English and Spanish in your freebie!
- Parent Conference forms- have your important points for each student ready to go on one form. This can be very simple and doesn’t need a bunch of data. I’ve included one for you in your freebie as well. I’ve also included a class at-a-glance form. I like these to keep track of who came in and any notes for myself (something I need to send home for a particular child, parent info of something that works at home, detail to keep in mind when working with a student, etc.)
- Assessments– formal and informal notes to support what you are expressing to parents
- Student work samples- look for examples of what you want to highlight: their strengths and areas that need improvement
- Stories! Parents love to hear specific times their child showed kindness, determination, problem-solving, etc. Try to jot down at least one specific example for each child during the weeks before conferences
- Gather Materials– gather any resources you need for different subject areas and keep them in bins or stacks near you, so you can give appropriate ones to parents. For example, you may have a list of activities to practice fine motor skills, an ABC chart for students who are working on letter names and sounds, sight word lists and ways to practice, a list of math games to practice number concepts, etc. You can have students help by placing their writing folders/ notebooks on their desks.
- Organize– I had students place anything they had that I wanted to show parents on their desks. Then, I quickly went around and placed anything I had on top of each student’s pile (conference form, report card, sight word ring, any reports from their intervention teachers or the school nurse, anything I wanted to show parents). Next, I went through my schedule and stacked the student piles neatly in order of conference. I kept this pile near me so I could quickly grab each student’s materials. Or, you can leave the materials on each student desk and grab as parents come in.
Day of Conferences
Place some chairs outside your classroom for parents who are waiting. Some parents may bring their children, including siblings. If you choose not to have students sit in on conferences (I rarely did), provide paper, crayons, books, or building materials to keep children occupied while you speak with parents.
I always like to have a little treat for parents. A tray of cookies, Box o’ Joe, or little popcorn bags labeled “Thanks for Popping in” are little ways to show parents you appreciate their support and involvement.
Have your seat on the same side of the table as parents’ seats so they don’t feel intimidated, or like they’re on an interview.
Plan how you will reach out to parents who did not attend. Will you offer a phone conference? Send home any materials they will need to look through as you speak with them over the phone.
Children are their parents’ world! I just love to hear that my daughter’s teacher loves her and all the positive things about her. Keep this in mind as you express student concerns. I’m not suggesting you downplay any struggles, but refrain from simply listing all of a student’s struggles without providing solutions and positive things about them.
I like to do a “positive sandwich.” I start and end with positives, and discuss areas of concerns/ suggestions for improvement in the middle, so my conferences go something like this:
- Beginning: Start with a strength, endearing quality, or sweet story about their child. Tell them how you love their child, how they make you or others smile, or what a great heart/personality they have.
- Middle: Make parents aware of areas that need improvement and how they can help at home. Don’t sugarcoat, but be tactful with your concerns and be sure to offer solutions, recommendations for improvement, and ways they can help at home. Ask parents for their suggestions as well. Have a clear goal that you will both work towards, and plan how you will stay in touch to discuss progress.
- End: End with something positive and optimism that their child will improve with your guidance and their support.
Let parents know from the beginning they can stop you at any time to ask any questions. End by asking if they have any questions as well, and let them know the best way to communicate with you in the future.
Staying on Schedule
Time can go by very quickly, especially if you have very social parents, if you know what I mean! I love to chat with parents, but it’s important to be considerate of everyone’s time.
I think most parents are understanding if you run behind 5 minutes, but try not to be behind more than that. Some parents are coming on their lunch break or have other conferences/ commitments.
To help parents understand the time restraints, post a copy of your schedule on your door with clear times.
If you feel like a conference is running long, you can say something like:
- “We don’t have too much time left, but I want to make sure I mention…”
- “In these last 5 minutes, let’s discuss . . . ”
- “Before my next parent comes in in 5 minutes, let’s review. . . “
- “Unfortunately, we ran out of time before my next scheduled conference, but we can certainly continue this conversation via email, a phone call, at a later conference. . .”
Always offer a way to continue communication with you at the end of your conference so parents don’t feel like their input or concerns are not valued.
What NOT To Do
- Save the teacher lingo for your co-workers! Parents may not be familiar with acronyms, assessment names, and curriculum or educational terms. Speak in clear language and don’t assume they know what Writing Workshop or Guided Reading is, centers, or terms like ‘decoding,’ ‘conventional spelling,’ etc.
- Don’t engage in negative talk– I’ve had parents start speaking negatively about the school or district, administration, and even other parents or students! As tempted as you may be to vent about any problems, don’t! If you speak negatively about another student or family, they will not trust that you won’t do the same about them or their child. If there are valid issues with the school, encourage parents to contact admin with their concerns.
- Don’t overwhelm parents– this can be hard for students who are struggling across many areas, but focus on one area where you want parents to help with. If you give them resources for every single area, it can be overwhelming and leave parents unsure where to start. Of course, as you communicate throughout the year, discuss progress and make new goals, then give them resources for those, as necessary.
Finally, this website has an AMAZING list of ways you can communicate effectively with parents during conferences or via report cards! Check it out for some great wording ideas: 100 Report Card Comments.
What other tips do you have? Comment below to share and help other teachers!