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27 Tips for Parent Conferences - Part II

This article comes from TSTA/NEA and is provided to us courtesy of Inspiring Teachers Publishing.
Offer a suggested course of action.  Parents appreciate being given some specific direction. If Jane is immature, it might be helpful to suggest parents give her a list of weekly chores, allow her to take care of a pet, or give her a notebook to write down assignments. (Of course, when you offer advice, let parents know you're only making a suggestion.)

Forget the jargon.  Education jargon phrases like "criterion-referenced testing," "perceptual skills" and "least restrictive environment" may be just too much double-talk to many parents.

Turn the other cheek.  In routine parent conferences, it's unusual to run into parents who are abusive and hostile. But it can happen. Try to not be rude, whatever the provocation.  Hear out the parents in as pleasant a manner as possible, without getting defensive if you can.

Ask for parents' opinions.  Let parents know you're interested in their opinions, are eager to answer their questions and want to work with them throughout the year to help make their child's education the best.

Focus on strengths.  It's very easy for parents to feel defensive since many of them see themselves in their children. You'll help if you review the child's strengths and areas of need rather than dwelling on criticism or stressing weaknesses.

Use body language.  Non-verbal cues set the mood of the conference.  Smile, nod, make eye contact and lean forward slightly.  You'll be using your body language to let parents know you're interested and approving.

Stress collaboration.  Let the parent know you want to work together in the best interests of the child.  A statement like "You need to see me as soon as possible to discuss Johnny's poor study habits" only arouses hostility, while "I'd like to discuss with you how we might work together to improve Johnny's study habits" gets the relationship off on the right foot.

Listen to what parents say.  Despite the fact that we spend nearly a third of our lives listening, most adults are poor listeners. We concentrate on what we're going to say next, or we let our minds drift off to other concerns, or we hear only part of what a speaker is saying. You'll get more out of a parent conference if you really listen to what parents are saying to you.

Ask about the child.  You don't want to pry, of course, but remember to ask the parents if there's anything they think you should know about the child (such as study habits, relationship with siblings, any important events in his or her life) which may affect his or her school work.

Focus on solutions.  Ideally all parent conferences would concern only positive events. Realistically, many conferences are held because there's a problem somewhere. Things will go smoother if you focus on solutions rather than on the child's problem. Discuss what you and the parents can do to help improve the situation. Plan a course of action together.

Don't judge. It may not always be possible to react neutrally to what parents say, but communicating your judgments of parents' behaviors can be a roadblock to a productive relationship with them.

Summarize.  Before the conference ends, summarize the discussion and what actions you and the parents have decided to take.

Wind up on a positive note.  When you can, save at least one encouraging comment or positive statement about the student for the end of the conference.

Meet again if you need to.  If you feel you need more time, arrange another meeting later rather than trying to rush everything before the kids get back from art class.

Keep a record of the conference.  You may find it helpful later to have a brief record of what was said at the conference, what suggestions for improvement were made and so forth. Make notes as soon as possible after the conference while the details are still fresh.
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