10+ Tips to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

Our school's parent-teacher conferences were last night. The expected, and desired, rate of attendance is always 100% so we can share the great things our class and individual students are doing, and also discuss the things we need to discuss…and boy, sometimes those can be challenging conversations!

If you're new to the teaching profession, you may feel overwhelmed at the very thought of having these child-specific meetings with each of your students' parents and family members. Back in the stone ages when I still had my new teacher smell, my anticipation of conferences would render me with feelings which would vacillate between excitement and terror. This is normal, I promise! If you listen to the teacher's lounge chatter, you will certainly hear the stories of conferences gone bad-those sessions where a family member is so offended, so angry, so hostile, that others had to intervene to keep the peace. The reason teachers share those stories is because they are so rare and so noteworthy, and they happen so infrequently, that they certainly become a part of a building's historical lore. I assure you, acrimonious conferences are apart from the norm. More often than not, you will find these sessions a great place to deepen those stakeholder relationships, build rapport with your students' families, and gain insights into your babies' learning styles.

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Here are a few helpful tips to consider as you prepare for parent-teacher conferences:

  • Make the event a priority in your communications. Texting, emails, newsletters, conversation. You name it!
  • Be clear in the expectations of your meeting-have an agenda to follow. Give parents time to share their points as you share yours. In the past, I have sent home this agenda ahead of time and suggested to parents that they make notes or send in their questions/concerns ahead of time so I can integrate their questions/concerns into my side of the presentation.
  • Greet your families with a handshake or other appropriate acknowledgement. It is important they know you're committed to this block of time being dedicated to their child's progress and development. When they know you're professional and attuned to their child, they will begin to see you as the ally you are.
  • Sometimes parents will bring up conversations about another student's interactions with their child. Listen to what they have to say, but remember to keep F.E.R.P.A. in mind when you answer. The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html) should be reviewed by all teachers to familiarize themselves with the do's and don'ts of student information disclosure. Privacy matters.
  • Have a document which lists, by bullet point, the strengths and areas for development of each student. Along with it, provide a sheet of online resources and book titles which could lend support to work at home.
  • Have small toys out for kids to play with while you're speaking with parents.
  • Have a sign-in sheet.
  • Because you're a Special Education teacher, you'll be wise to have a listing of their I.E.P. goals in front of you noting all the efforts you've made toward providing goal achievement. In the past, I have added this to the bullet-point document. Parents love to know what you're doing with their children and how you're working toward their goals. Administration loves you because you're being transparent and effective.
  • Often, administrators will be making the rounds in the building. If you sense that a particular conference might become acrimonious, invite your administrator to be nearby in the hallway. If things get rancorous, you can step out and ask for their support. Knowing extra support is steps away can make you feel confident enough in your own skills and abilities to finesse a difficult scenario into a positive scenario.
  • Take notes. Create a list of "Do Now's" for yourself before you leave school following conferences. In doing so, you'll follow up with parents in a timely manner.

Working together to create a productive, safe, happy, fun learning environment will be make a happy year for the children as well as for the teachers and parents involved.

If this Fall's parent-teacher conferences are your first, relax and enjoy meeting the families. If you're a pro, please feel free to share what works for you.

Have a great week!



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