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27 Tips for Parent Conferences

This article comes from TSTA/NEA and is provided to us courtesy of Inspiring Teachers Publishing.
Invite both parents.   Encourage both parents to attend conferences when possible.  Misunderstandings are less common if both parents hear what you have to say, and you'll be able to gauge the kind of support both parents give the child.  (Of course, remember that both mother and father may not be available.  Today, when some 60 percent of adult women work outside the home, it may not always be the mother who's available to meet.  And many children come from single-parent homes; you could unwittingly hurt a child's feelings by always asking to meet the "mother.")

Make contact early.  You'll get your relationship with parents off to a good start if you contact them early in the year, perhaps with a memo or newsletter sent home to all pupils.  Give parents an outline of what their children will be studying, and let them know you'll be happy to meet with them during the year.  (Be sure to say how and when they may contact you for conferences.)

Allow enough time.  Schedule plenty of time for the meeting.  Twenty to thirty minutes is usually adequate.  If you're scheduling back-to-back conferences, be sure to allow enough time between them (10 minutes or so) so you can make necessary notes on the just-concluded conference and prepare for the upcoming one.

Be ready for questions.  Be prepared to answer specific questions parents may have.  They're likely to ask questions such as: -What is my child's ability level?
    -Is my child working up to his/her ability level?
    -How is my child doing in specific subjects?
    -Does my child cause any trouble?
    -Does my child have any specific skills or abilities in schoolwork?

Get your papers organized in advance.  Assemble your grade book, test papers, samples of the student's work, attendance records and other pertinent data together ahead of time.  That way you won't be fumbling through stacks on your desk during the meeting.

Plan ahead.  Have in mind a general but flexible outline of what you're going to say, including a survey of student progress, a review of his or her strengths and needs, and a proposed plan of action.

Greet parents near the entrance they'll use.  You'll alleviate anxiety and frustration (nothing is more confusing to the uninitiated than wandering around those look-alike school hallways trying to find the right classroom) and makes parents feel more welcome.

Get the name right.  Don't assume that Jennifer Peabody's mother is Mrs. Peabody. She could well have been married again since Jennifer was born.  Check your records ahead of time to make sure you've got the parents' names right.  And don't assume that the wrinkled gray-haired gentleman coming in with Johnny is his grandfather.  It could be his father, or an uncle.  Politely ask.  Try not to talk to the Smiths about their son "Stan" when their son's name is "Steve".

Avoid physical barriers.  Don't sit behind your desk, while forcing the parents to squeeze into the children's desks on the front row or perch miserably on folding chairs. Arrange a conference-style seating if possible so you'll all be equals together.

Open on a positive note.  Begin conferences on a warm, positive note to get everyone relaxed. Start with a positive statement about the child's abilities, work or interests.

Structure the session.  As soon as the parents arrive, review the structure of the conference--the why, what, how, and when so that you'll both have an "agenda".

Be specific in your comments.  Parents may flounder if you deal only in generalities. Instead of saying "She doesn't accept responsibility," pin down the problem by pointing out "Amanda had a whole week to finish her report but she only wrote two paragraphs."
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