If you read my previous post here, you should have all your materials prepared in advance of the day of conferences. If you’ve waited until the last minute, be sure to have at least something to give the parents–perhaps my teacher checklist here if you teach in the elementary grades. This form can be altered for junior high students, but it really doesn’t apply to the high school environment.
When you are ready to actually conduct the conference, here’s what you need to do IN THIS ORDER:
- Greet the parent(s)–If you are seated, stand up and extend your hand. If you must walk to your classroom door, invite them in with a smile on your face–even if you know it will be a difficult conference, control the urge to let it show on your face!
- Invite the parent to sit down. Traditionally it is suggested that you do not conduct a conference at your desk and that it should take place in a neutral zone such as a classroom table. Nevertheless, I have never held to that rule. Who made the rule? I don’t know. I have generally met at my desk where all my supplies are. It makes sense to me. You can do as you wish and I doubt that it will change anything. I have been on both sides of the “desk” as both parent and teacher. It has made no difference to me where we have met.
- BE PREPARED WITH YOUR MATERIALS. You should have the schedule right before you, and the file (elementary) or the handouts (junior high/high school) that you are going to share with the parents.
- Begin on a positive note. Decide ahead of time three positive things you are going to say about “Junior.” I remember my first year saying, “I enjoy having XXXX in class!” His mother looked at my doubtfully and said, “No one has said that to me since second grade.” I was the 6th grade teacher. Junior’s parent may be frustrated and discouraged if all she/he ever hears is how he doesn’t measure up. Go with mercy and grace in this situation!
- Gently and with mercy deliver your information. If the student is outstanding…wonderful! The parent will be encouraged. If the student is a challenge…tread carefully. I have learned that to give a student a D is like pinning a note to the parent’s shirt that reads “I got a D in reading.” Provide documentation of any areas a student is struggling in. Do not give vague generalities such as “Junior is having trouble with reading.” What do you mean, exactly? Show papers that Junior has completed. Provide evidence that the parents can take home and review.
- Quickly follow up with what YOU–THE PAID PROFESSIONAL–are going to do about it. Give concrete steps–at least three. Example: Junior seems to have difficulty with multiplication facts. Here are some things I AM PLANNING TO DO AS HIS TEACHER.” a. I will give him a quick one minute speed drill three days a week. b. I will monitor and record his success on this paper. (show paper) c. I will contact you in two weeks to let you know how he is progressing. Do not put the responsibility of “fixing” Junior’s math problem on the parents. They may be willing to help you or support you in your work, but likely they are not going to fix it at home.
- Let the parent express their concerns. Everyone wants a chance to be heard. Lend a listening ear.
- Give the parent HOPE. You’ve got this! You’re with Junior every day of the week. Agree upon an action plan. Make notes during the conference and then follow through.
- STAND UP WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED. If you do not make the first move, the parent may not either. You might run over the conference time by 10 minutes or more. Then everyone is out-of-whack and tempers flare. If more time is needed, offer to schedule an additional conference at a later date.
- Give parents all documents you wish them to have and walk them to the door if appropriate. Thank them for coming and move on to the next conference.
For your reassurance, most conferences go well. In the event that a parent is a ne’er-do-well, then you go to plan B which will follow in the next blog, “WHEN THE PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE GOES SOUTH!”