I’ll never forget those anxious, nail-biting moments when my parents usually my mom—took off for parent-teacher conferences. I wasn't always the most diligent of students, so I worried. Would I get in trouble for combing my hair in social studies class to impress the girls? (Yes, I actually had hair at one time.) Would I have to begin my science fair project when she got home? The due date was only a few days from now, and in my opinion I had plenty of time remaining to complete the task. Years later, I prepare for my own child’s parent-teacher conferences, and I am still nervous. What if my child isn't doing as well as I hoped? What if they’re socializing too much in class? Will the teacher think I’m a bad parent? This is what goes through the minds of some parents.
Be positive with people and you’ll get positive results (Blanchard, Lacinak, Tompkins, Ballard, & Blanchard, 2002).
As a former coach, I view parent-teacher conferences like a time-out in a game. It is a brief opportunity in a contest (school year) to praise or redirect performances. Todd Whitaker (2004) is known for stating, “Raise the praise and minimize the criticize.” A conference is not the time to vividly describe and elaborate on every single minor classroom disruption, but if critical feedback is necessary it’s often best delivered with a sandwiching technique.
Great teachers help create magical moments and have the ability to ignore minor errors (Whitaker, 2004).
Here are some additional tips for successful conferences that I found from the Illinois Education Association (2000). I hope you will keep these in mind as you prepare for next week’s conferences:
- Prepare an outline. How are you going to budget your minimal time with parents?
- Gather student samples for praising and for redirecting.
- Anticipate possible parent concerns.
- Greet each parent with a handshake and a friendly smile. (I always stood to greet a parent.)
- Ask parents if they have any concerns, and reassure parents that their concerns will be addressed.
- Before addressing any concern, describe students’ improvements or successes since Interims.
- Collaborate when addressing any concern. There should be teacher suggestions as well as parent input. Both parties should agree to this strategy. Suggestions may include more parent involvement by having parents sign daily agendas, assignments or tests. This may mean more teacher involvement also, such as signing agendas, checking notebooks or binders, or having a phone or email contact.
- End on a positive note.
Conferences have provided me with some of my most rewarding moments in teaching. Just as we appreciate praise for our efforts, parents appreciate praise for their efforts and their child’s progress. The school calendar may set aside time for parent-teacher conferences each year. However, I believe great teachers know that parent-teacher conferences are held throughout the entire school year. A great teacher keeps the student, the team, and the parents informed at all times. Enjoy meeting and getting to know the parents of your students.