I am currently in the middle of parent-teacher conference week, and I love this week! Sure, it’s a lot of work and we may be quite unappreciated at times, but I find the rewards greatly outweigh the sacrifices. However, my department has five new teachers this year, so I provided some tips for these new high school English teachers. Here they are:
1. Have a progress report for each student. Parents almost always want to know exactly how their children are doing, and a progress report is tangible. They can share the report with their children and use it as a checklist in helping their students make up work. Patterns and trends can be easily viewed as well as allowing parents see when precipitous rises and falls in grades occur.
2. Frame comments of improvement as a partnership. “I think we can help your student improve” or “We can assist your student in recovering by…” and so on. Parents are our allies and we should treat them as such.
3. Start with something positive. Tell the parent what is going well in classroom before stating a criticism. I have never met a student who was not deserving of some sort of praise or recognition of talent. This helps parents start without having to feel defensive towards you or aggressive towards the student.
4. Remember the non-verbals. Experts say 80% of communication is not spoken. Levels of eye contact, tone of voice, calmness, posture, and more can affect the success or failure of a conference. Rise as a parent approaches and shake hands with the proper firmness; do the same to conclude the conference.
5. Allow the parent to voice what has been done before suggesting a future path to student success. Many parents have long struggled with their children, and they may have attempted numerous methods of reaching higher levels of achievement. If my suggestion repeats an old one, the parent may become quickly frustrated or feel like I may be of no use. Trying something new is key.
6. Sometimes parents just want to voice an opinion or feeling. I have had numerous conferences where I virtually said nothing at all. On occasion parents just want you to know how they are feeling about their children, sometimes positively or negatively (I only interrupt after I see aggression, berating a child, or for length of visit). More often than I can recall, I needed to do little more than agree at times, redirect a bit, or make corrections.
7. Starting with a question can easily start a conversation. I generally allow the parent to start the conference after asking one of a few questions: “What has your student told you about my class?” or (if the student is present) “What have you told your parent about class?” or (if I have pulled out the progress report) “How do you feel about this?”.
8. Explain how the parent can remain involved. I have the ability to send progress reports weekly through e-mail, but many do not. I also have a website with help pages for each of my classes (each of the major works taught, in fact), a place to check grades, and a calendar with every assignment on it. This is an easy way for parents to access what we do. Inviting parents into the classroom can be wonderful as well. Anything where a parent can become a part of the student’s successes will complement your efforts.
What are some of the tips you provide teachers before conferencing begins?