I used to dread parent conferences. When I was young teacher, I was afraid the parents would figure out I didn’t know what I was doing. Later on, the conferences were often negativity-fests focused on a 12 year old. The team spent way too much time enumerating deficits and missing assignments. Very little was accomplished.
Teams, with a little planning, can takes steps that are more likely to lead to positive outcomes for parent conferences:
I. Take time before the conference to summarize the team’s concerns and devise a plan of action.
- As a team read “Motivation and Middle School Students” (ERIC Digest); it contains ideas that the team might incorporate in their plan.
- Share concerns that stretch across the curriculum. Keep the list very short. Too long and it becomes impossible to effectively brainstorm solutions.
- Look at the data you have available, all of it. There’s more to a student’s progress than just test scores.
- Be prepared with specific, doable ideas that include teacher actions. Chances are the student’s behaviors are long-standing, and if the parents could change them by themselves, they would have done so already.
II. Choose your setting:
- Find a space that is neutral. Meeting in the classroom of a teacher whose course the student is failing sets a negative tone right at the beginning. A conference room or a guidance counselor’s office is better.
- Think about the furniture. If the only choice is an rectangular table, make sure one of the team members sits on the same side of the table as the parents. Sitting across the table can signal an adversarial position. You want the parents to see you as a partner, not the enemy.
III. Start the conference with positive attributes of the child.
- One of the benefits of being on a team is that the different teachers have multiple perspectives. Some may have a better relationship with the student than others and know more about his/her interests and strengths. A team is able to use the information gathered through their different perspectives to connect with parents by acknowledging a child’s strengths.
- Give parents an opportunity to comment on their child’s strengths and their hopes for his/her future. Parents concerns may surface, and it’s important that the team note and address them.
IV. Use a third point of reference–by having paper or a chart or some other exhibit to focus on, the conference becomes about the information, not the person delivering it.
- Avoid going around the table and having each teacher list all of the missing assignments. This information just becomes overwhelming.
- Instead of listing missing work, share exemplars of grade level work. Help parents compare them to examples of their students work.
- Share appropriate test data. Share a data chart that shows the percentage of work completed in every class. Have a colleague observe your class and make a chart of on and off task behavior. If it’s a behavior issue, look at written documentation together and identify patterns.
- Share documented quantifiable student action, not personal characteristics. Suggesting a student is lazy to a parent, no matter how tempting, is usually not helpful.
V. Be specific about what the student must do to improve achievement or demonstrate mastery of a skill. Don’t focus on grades or test scores; focus on skills and knowledge.
- Share what steps will occur in school.
- Ask what parents feel they can supervise at home. Today’s reality is that parents are working two jobs and not home.
- If the student is at the conference, include him or her in the discussion. Be very descriptive about specific next steps that are within the student’s control. Focus on the task of becoming more proficient at a skill, not completing homework. Students have had the homework lecture numerous times and nothing changes. Try a different approach.
- Be prepared to suggest some web-based strategies that might engage the student. This is the digital generation.
VI. End the meeting with a follow-up plan.
- Make sure both the student and the parents know how progress will be assessed and shared.
- Set a date for a follow-up meeting in person or via Skype or phone call.
- End with a strong affirmation that the team likes the student and recognizes his or her strengths.
Something to note–student-led conferences often make some teacher-parent conferences unnecessary because the student is showing evidence of his or her effort and progress in a portfolio.
Sites for info on teacher-parent conferences: