After about 10 weeks of school and first report cards come parent teacher conferences. These conversations can be immensely productive, but there are some pitfalls we want to help you to avoid so you can shine.
Let’s get the housekeeping out of the way
Follow all procedures from your principal. You will be judged on this. If you must wear ID badges at all times, do it. Is your name required to be on your classroom door? Make sure. If classroom bulletin boards must be neat and colorful, make certain of that. Some institutions require a youngster to be present for conferences, others forbid it and others make it optional. Follow your boss’s directives to a “t.”
We hope parents have already met you on back-to-school night. You should already be a known quantity. If you’ve met, if they know your reputation, and if have seen some of the assignments and graded work coming home, this helps. Some parents must miss back to school night, but it’s always better to have made personal introductions prior to conferences.
Tip Number 1: Understand where many parents are emotionally when they arrive.
Possibly their youngster has brought home poor grades so far this year. Possibly you sanctioned the child for misconduct in the lunchroom. When parents arrive, they may be anxious and defensive. You are discussing the single most precious thing they have in the whole world, their son or daughter. So they may be afraid that their child will be “attacked” or at least found lacking. They may fear their child is falling behind or lacks competencies. It is essential that you put the parents at ease at the very beginning by stressing your dedication to her future.
Be gentle. You may have 14 conferences to get through tonight, but they may have only one. You loom very large. Remind them that the youngster’s progress and success is also dear to you. They must trust you before they will hear anything. Parents cannot perceive you as drill sergeant. Put them at ease at the outset by stressing the love that you both have for the youngster and setting the right psycho-emotional tone. Only then can the substance of the conversation take place. Sit at a round table to imply equality and consensus, not in a typical power arrangement. The right tone and setting go a long way.
Tip Number 2: Have written work samples on the desk
To communicate to parents that a youngster has weaknesses, there’s no better way than to show a sample that you have graded. A sample is worth 1000 words. It almost explains itself. They will be able to see right away where improvement resides. Consider having the youngster’s whole notebook available to look at. You can see the youngster’s organizational skills, the quality of her class notes, or how he arranges his information. These are all very valuable things in assessing habits and progress.
Tip Number 3: Speak of a youngster’s strengths first.
People will remember this. If the student is simultaneously a strong public speaker but a weak analytical writer, begin the conference by stressing what an accomplished public speaker he is, and then you can move on to areas of improvement. Keep it positive. People are typically fearful and defensive. It may be necessary to give the parents bad news about his progress in school. A child may have glaring skill gaps. Don’t sugarcoat this but present it in the larger context, which will help them listen and internalize better. You can then both make a plan of improvement
Tip Number 4: Avoid educational jargon.
They don’t need the industry terms any more than you need them from your laptop technician. Avoid “edu-speak.” In fact, they will resent it because they’ll suspect you are trying to confuse them. Be direct, clear and concrete in the language that you use. Save the jargon for the faculty lounge.
Tip Number 5: Create a conversational template to follow.
Conferences can go awry, so have a clear plan. Begin with strengths, then move to areas of improvement and establish goals for the rest of the year. Describe a clear plan for follow up. Exchange contact information. Have a ready anecdote about the child to show that you have more than just academic knowledge of who they are. A brief story can personalize and make the conference more satisfying. Inevitably, you will have some tough conferences. Some people are determined to misunderstand you. If you do anticipate a contentious conference, consider asking a school official to be present.
A good conference can really help your relationships
People don’t remember a teacher for the information you gave. They remember how you made them feel. Keep the tone bright, show sincerity and dedication, share strengths and create goals, be specific in your communications and close with a clear follow up plan. You just did your students and their families a whole world of good.
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