Conducting effective parent-teacher conferences can boost family involvement in your classroom and help promote positive outcomes for you, your students, and your school.
A parent-teacher conference is a great opportunity to:
share academic progress and growth based on classroom observations, testing data, assessments, portfolios, and assignments
learn from parents or guardians so you can be better informed about students' strengths, needs, behaviors, and learning styles
discuss enrichment or intervention strategies to support students' learning
discuss issues that may be interfering with students' learning and growth
Parent-teacher conferences are usually once or twice a year at progress reporting periods. They are brief meetings, lasting about 10-30 minutes. Conferences are typically scheduled 1 to 2 months in advance. Some middle and high schools only request parent conferences to discuss problems. Most schools set aside specific dates and times for conferences, but if school schedules conflict with family schedules, it's worth the effort to find a mutually convenient time, or even schedule a phone or video conference. Be mindful of special situations, such as divorced parents, single parents, or guardianships. Some divorced parents, for example, may prefer separate conferences.
While the main focus of parent-teacher conferences should be learning, it's also important to discuss factors that can affect learning, such as students' behavioral and social development. Other topics might include standardized test results, individualized education programs (IEPs), 504 education plans, peer relationships, classroom behavior, motivation and work habits, as well as students' strengths and challenges.
School staff who support your students' learning may attend the conference, too. An administrator might attend at your request, or the request of a parent or guardian. Some teachers like students to attend part of the meeting to show that parents and educators are both part of the instructional team.
Here are a few tips on getting the most out of your conferences:
Before the Conference
Get informed. Make sure you're familiar with your school's or school district's protocols on progress reports or report cards, grading policies, and any other student assessment tools. As you move through the conference, the report card or progress report can be a springboard for discussion and help guide you through the meeting. Also, have any local or state standardized tests results available to share, if possible. Make sure you know how the standardized testing data will be used to customize or differentiate instruction for students.
Prepare your materials. Preparing materials well before the conference will make you feel more at ease when families show up at your classroom door. As you're teaching during the school year, keep in mind which assessments will be shared and reported at conferences. Review student data, assignments and assessments that you'll be sharing with parents, and make notes about what you'd like to ask parents about their children to support learning.
In addition to progress reports, you may want to set aside separate conference folders with three to five student documents that support grades and progress, as well as any test results that are available.
You can also prepare an outline or agenda for conferences and share them with parents so they know what to expect. Some teachers keep worksheets with strengths, needs, and social or behavioral notes to guide them through conferences.
If you'll be discussing any problems, make sure to have documentation, such as examples of misbehavior or missed assignments. Also, make sure to inform parents about any problems before the conference. If a parent knows about a concern before the conference, chances are you'll both be better equipped to discuss possible solutions during the conference.
Send informative invitations. Be sure to communicate the importance of attending conferences at back-to-school night and other parent forums, and let parents know that they are a critical part of their child's instructional team. When you send home information about conference dates and times, give parents several meeting times to choose from. On the invitation, remind parents that they'll be able to ask questions, because an effective parent-teacher conference is a two-way conversation about students. You might also want to remind parents to be respectful of other parents' time, and be clear that time slots won't be extended if parents arrive late.
A week or so before the conferences, send home reminders of where and when the conference will be held, as well as the meeting agenda. If a conflict arises and an in-person meeting is not an option, try to schedule an alternative way to meet, via phone or video. If you'll be phone- or video-conferencing, send home copies of materials ahead of time so parents can have them in hand while you talk.
During the Conference
Create a welcoming environment. Make your classroom inviting by displaying students' work, and making space for the conference with an adult-sized table and chairs. If parents need to bring their child or other siblings, have an area set aside with puzzles, games, worksheets, or computers to limit distractions. Also consider offering healthy snacks or beverages to families. Remember to have paper and pens available so parents can take notes. You also might want to have a box of tissues available for when you have to deliver bad news.
Open with positives. When you start the conversation, remind parents that the goal of this meeting is to share information about students' academic progress and growth and how their child interacts in the school environment. All parents are proud of their kids and want to hear about their child's strengths as well as challenges, so be sure to discuss both — but start with the positives.
Discuss progress and growth. Inform parents about their child's ability levels or grade levels in different content areas, using demonstrative work examples or testing results. Many parents want to know how their children compare to their peers, but remind them that you're discussing their child's individual instructional levels, not their standing in class. You should, however, inform them about grade-level expectations and how the student is doing in that context.
It's all too easy to let discussions veer off-task during conferences, so try to limit all talk to learning and how to support the student's instruction.
Avoid teacher-talk. K-12 education is loaded with jargon and acronyms, but a parent-teacher conference is not the place to use them. Be sure to explain any terms, curriculum titles, or even words on progress reports that aren't commonly used outside the school setting.
Ask questions and listen. Ask parents or guardians for their input about students' strengths, needs, and learning styles, as well as their hopes and dreams for their children. Don't forget to ask these simple but important questions: "Does your child like school?" and "Why?" or "Why not?" That single line of questioning can give you a lot of information that can be helpful in the classroom.
Make a plan. Provide suggestions for activities and strategies to support learning at home. Spend the last few minutes of the meeting on your specific goals for the student. Note the kinds of strategies you'll use, the length of time you'll use them, and when you'll communicate to parents next.
Be honest and have a thick skin. It's your responsibility to give parents or guardians an accurate assessment of students' academic progress. Sometimes this means delivering bad news. Sugar-coating the facts defeats the purpose of the conference.
In addition, you may see some of your students differently than their parents do, and some parents may take your evaluation of their child in a negative or defensive way. While you should be open to constructive criticism, remember that you're in charge of the conference, and if the discussion becomes too heated to be effective, or goes awry in other ways, you should conclude the meeting and ask to reconvene at another time. If you have reason to expect such negative interactions before the next conference, ask an administrator to attend.
If you suspect a student may have a learning disability, however, you don't need to say that specifically. You can just tell the parents or guardians that you recommend they have their student get an educational evaluation to determine his or her learning style.
After the Conference
Follow up. A little thank-you can go a long way. Many parents have to take time off work or hire babysitters to attend conferences, so consider taking the time to thank parents in a letter or email. You can also have students write thank-you notes to their parents or guardians for attending and supporting their learning. In the notes, remind parents to contact you if they have any further questions or concerns.
Be sure to contact parents who did not attend and offer alternative ways to communicate about their child's progress.
Communicate regularly. Let parents know what's going on with their child in an ongoing fashion. Keep families informed about class projects, homework and other assignments, students' accomplishments, and any problems or concerns that may arise.
Enhance your instruction. Now that you know a little more about your students, use that information to make instructional decisions that will help your students achieve and grow in the classroom.