As teachers, it is in our bones to talk to children. It is what we do all day, every day. But when it comes to talking to adults? It can be nerve-racking, especially during parent teacher conferences. Here you are, the teacher, talking to the parents of a child who is their pride and joy. You don’t want to cause tension or drama, but you also have to tell the parents what you see, where the child is, and what really needs to be said. Seems intimidating, right? I promise it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you how with some tried and true parent teacher conference tips for teachers, both new and veteran, to prepare for successful parent teacher conferences without your nerves running amok!
The first key to prepare for parent teacher conferences is to be PREPARED! The easiest way to calm those butterflies is to be prepared before the conference happens. What you don’t want is to be stumbling over your words or shuffling through papers. Here are some helpful pieces of information to have set before your conferences start.
Make a schedule of conferences. Two to three weeks before conferences are to be held, send out a sign-up sheet or use a web service like Signup Genius to send them out easily to the parents. When setting up the times you are available, make sure it is realistic for you. Teachers are superheroes, but seeing all 25 families in one day would be impossible for anyone. If you are seeing parents after school, offer a few times. You do not need to stay until 8 o’clock after school and then jeopardize your time at home and need to rest after the school day. If your school district has dedicated conference days, make sure you leave enough time in between to catch your breath, get ready for the next one, take care of yourself, etc. Make sure you leave time for lunch as well!
With that schedule, I like to post it on my board or display it on the table where I am meeting with parents. In my experience, it helps keep me and the parents aware of our time limit and ensures you don’t run into the next conference without a breather.
Create an agenda or conference form for each child. It is so important to prepare what you want to say before you meet with each family. I’m not saying a word-for-word script, but having a document with the main points you need to address keeps you from going blank in the middle of the conference or forgetting specifics you may have wanted to discuss. You can create your own document or find it on teacher sharing sites. You will want to make sure that the document you use includes a place to have information on the student’s grades or levels for each of the subjects, a list of strengths, and a list of places for students to improve.
For a particularly difficult conference dealing with behaviors, be sure to have concrete examples, like behavior referrals or anecdotal notes, to share with the parents. It is easier to have some talking points around those difficult topics before the conference happens than to try and come up with them in the middle of talking to a family. I also like to include a place on each conference document for myself to sign and for the parent or parents to sign. I will then make a copy of the document to give to the parents and keep one for myself. The 101 Ideas for Parent Conferences eBook has tons of reproducible letters and forms you can use for these types of scenarios rather than creating them from scratch. It is a great way to have a record of each meeting, too!
Brainstorm with colleagues to gain more insight before having difficult discussions. Prior to conferences taking place where you have to have difficult discussions, it is super helpful to talk to your colleagues and brainstorm how to handle the conversation and lean on their own experience for how to approach the topic. If your area of concern is behavior, talk with other educators to see if a child displays those same behaviors in their classrooms, gathering evidence from them as well.
As a parent, it is very easy to be defensive about your child, so I feel it is better to have corroborating evidence from specialists if a behavior happens in multiple settings throughout the school. On the flip side, if the behavior is only happening in the classroom, it gives you time to consult with your team to brainstorm what could be behind the behaviors. That way, you have some ideas of how to help to bring to the conference as well rather than just coming with a problem and no potential solutions. Remember: conferences are also a great way to gain insight into your students’ home situations and life outside of the classroom, which can help you better understand (and solve!) any areas of concern you are seeing in class. It’s also a great way for parents to collaborate with you and learn from them (remember, they are experts on their child’s behaviors, too!). Teacher Messages for Home eBook includes super helpful reproducible notes to promote school-to-home communication, so you can keep parents up-to-date on their child’s progress along the way. Coming up with collaborative efforts to seek progress is a great way to help parents to feel more included in their child’s growth and success.
Don’t forget to treat yourself! Preparing for parent teacher conferences takes a lot of hard work and preparation, so make sure to stop and get your favorite coffee, your favorite bakery item, your favorite smoothie, or whatever treat makes you happy and helps you to relax before conferences. Make sure to also pack yourself a nice little lunchbox of healthy snacks, water, maybe a caffeinated drink and some chocolate, to munch on in between conferences (nobody wants to deal with a hangry teacher!).
I hope these ideas give you a place to start when preparing for parent teacher conferences. Nothing is going to take away every bit of anxiety. Even as a veteran teacher starting my 17th year of teaching, I can still get painfully nervous about conferences! One thing I’ve learned though, now that I’m a parent of school-aged children, is that parents are nervous too! They want to hear good things about their babies, and they are worried about hearing the negative things! Just remember that everybody in the room is human, and everybody wants to do what is best for that child. You’ve got this!