How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

We all know that Parent-Teacher conferences can be a really nerve-wracking time for teachers. But don’t forget that it can feel just as nerve-wracking for parents! They may have concerns about their students that are making them feel uneasy. They may feel awkward because they don’t know what to expect. They may feel a little intimidated about meeting their child’s teacher.

Putting yourself in the shoes of your students’ parents is a great way to understand how they may be feeling and do what you can to put them at ease. We’ve thought through every aspect of the experience and came up with many simple ways that you can make conferences more parent-friendly.

10 Ways to Make Parent Teacher Conferences Parent-Friendly

  1. NO SURPRISES! Don’t spring anything on parents at conferences. They shouldn’t find out for the first time at conferences that their student is struggling in some way or significantly behind. It’s important to communicate with parents regular outside of conferences.
  2. Set up your conference space intentionally. It’s especially important to get adult-sized furniture for parents. Nobody feels more uncomfortable than an adult sitting on a Kindergartener size chair. We want everyone to feel comfortable and at ease at conferences. Also carefully consider where you, the teacher, will sit at the conference table and what message that sends to the parents.
  3. Create a welcoming waiting area. Consider using a sign that says “Welcome to conferences with Mr/Ms _______” so parents know they’re in the right place.
  4. Plan for siblings. We want parents to be able to focus on the meeting and not what their other kids are doing during the conference, so they will appreciate the effort you make to keep their other kids busy.
  5. Plan for translators, if necessary, and let parents know those translators will be available. Also translate any paperwork or signs for parents.
  6. Be the host! Make it your job to set parents at ease when they enter your conference space. Greet them warmly and direct them where to go.
  7. Stick to the schedule. It’s best for everyone involved in the conference if you start and end each conference on time. You don’t want to start your conference with frustrated parents who have been waiting for 15 minutes because you’re behind schedule. And you don’t want to keep them from where they need to be by going over schedule either. That may involve some guidance on your part to keep everyone on track with the agenda. Be sure to seat yourself where you can easily keep an eye on the clock.
  8. Minimize teacher jargon. Parents may not have any idea what you mean when you say DIBELS, DRA, or flexible seating. Spell everything out clearly for them and don’t assume they know what you mean.
  9. Never mention a problem without offering a solution or plan for addressing it. And give parents an opportunity to offer their impressions, feedback, and opinions about the situation. This signals that you view them as part of the educational team to help their student.
  10. Offer as many positive notes about your student as possible. This puts everyone at ease! Don’t lie or avoid problems that need to be discussed, but work in that positivity as much as you can.

By making your conferences parent-friendly, you put everyone at ease so that the conference can be about what matters most: the progress and success of each student!

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

Done well, parent-teacher conferences can be powerful tools for building trust and partnerships with the families at your early education center. In a recent webinar, we asked our community of directors, administrators, and teachers what their secrets were for hosting amazing conferences with their families. Here are their tried-and-true strategies!

What tips do you have for addressing families’ concerns and questions during parent-teacher conferences?

  • Remember to listen to everything that parents have to say. Don’t assume you know what they’re asking and start answering before they have a chance to finish their thoughts!
  • Put yourself in parents’ shoes and be reassuring and helpful.
  • Prepare resources beforehand that will help you during the conference, such as student work and developmental checklists (like these lists from the CDC).
  • Practice empathy and remind parents that you’re working on the same team—everyone wants what’s best for the student!
  • Send a pre-conference survey to parents to gather their questions and concerns. This way, you can prepare relevant classroom observations, student work, and other resources beforehand.
  • Come prepared with lesson plans to share, as well as any assessment forms you use at your center.
  • If students are invited to the conference, do a short activity with them so parents can experience a hands-on teaching moment.
  • Pay attention to the parents’ body language. If they seem tense or nervous, remind them that you’re here to help and that you have their child’s best interests at heart.
  • Find the right balance between being direct and empathetic. If there are real issues that need to be addressed, don’t skirt around them. Instead, share the issues, remind parents they’re not alone, and reassure them that you can find solutions by working together.
  • Practice active listening by repeating what parents say, making eye contact, and asking clarifying questions.
  • Don’t forget to use the powerful question, “How can I help?”.
  • Use the positivity sandwich method—start and end the conference by sharing about their child’s strengths, improvements, and progress on milestones.
  • Be patient. Many parents don’t know what to expect during conferences and aren’t knowledgeable about early education best practices. Educate parents by spelling out how you’re helping their child learn and grow!

What special touches do you add to your parent-teacher conferences to make them memorable for families?

  • Share how the student wrote their name on the first day of school and how they currently write their name so parents can see how much their child is improving.
  • Decorate your classroom according to the season (for example, autumn or springtime decorations).
  • Prepare a folder of the student’s work for parents to bring home, and include a list of their child’s strengths and how they make a positive difference in the classroom.
  • Provide light refreshments. Coffee and donuts are always popular!
  • Start the conference by asking how the parents are doing and referencing things they’ve shared during casual drop-off and pick-up conversations. This demonstrates that you care about them and that you’re always paying attention!
  • Give parents a care package to take home that includes simple treats like tea bags and healthy snacks.
  • Rearrange your classroom so it’s comfortable and inviting for parents. Use adult-sized furniture and buy fresh flowers for the room!
  • Create a welcome banner that includes every student’s name on it.
  • Give parents a certificate for their child that celebrates the milestones they recently achieved.
  • Send parents home with a handwritten thank you note or framed artwork that their child made.
  • Give parents a “day in the life of your child” photo collage that shows what their student does during a typical day at your center.

How do you keep the conversation going about student learning all year long, and not just during conferences?

  • Give parents an activity to do at home with their child every week or month and ask them to post a photo of it to brightwheel.
  • Use newsletters to share learning recaps and what lesson plans are coming up in the month ahead.
  • Be intentional with conversations you have with families at drop-off and pick-up. Share student progress and milestones—even during casual chats!
  • Create “Today We” boards that list out the day’s activities so parents can read them when they pick up their child.
  • Start a private Facebook group to share classroom updates and ideas for how to continue the learning at home.
  • Share 1-2 positive moments from each student’s day with families at pick-up time.
  • Make a suggestion box so parents feel comfortable sharing their ideas and know you value their feedback.
  • Send learning updates in brightwheel using photos and videos of the student’s activities and work.
  • Send weekly recaps of each student’s progress or what you’re currently working on with the student.
  • Create a blog for your center where you can share daily or weekly updates about what students are learning.
  • Remember to ask parents to share their observations about student progress too! They may observe things at home that are helpful for you to know about.

How brightwheel can help

With brightwheel, you can easily share student learning with parents so they’re always in the loop (and always reminded of how much value your center is providing their child).

Brightwheel makes it easy to:

Record observations to track towards important milestones

Send newsletters to keep families updated on lesson plans and other classroom activities

Message parents with quick updates and observations

We hope these suggestions sparked some new ideas that will help you build stronger partnerships with the parents at your center. Thank you for everything you do for your students and families!

For stress-free planning, download our parent-teacher conference checklist!

Good communication between teachers and families is essential for student success. With multiple methods of communication available—including email, texts, and apps such as Remind—teachers have many choices about how they choose to communicate with parents and guardians.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Face-to-face conferencing remains the most popular method of school-home communication, according to the results of the 2017 National Household Education Survey which reported that 78% of parents/guardians attended at least one conference that academic year.

Most schools set aside time for these valuable conferences once or twice a year so that parents and teachers can meet to discuss student academic progress and goals for the year. Sometimes, however, a few minutes is not enough time to cover important topics.

Parents and teachers may feel that there is a lot more to discuss than whether a student is meeting academic goals—many families also want to talk about social progress, accommodations and modifications for their child, behavior in and out of the classroom, and more. This breadth is predictably hard to cover in a short time.

In cases where time is limited but there is much to discuss, extra preparation is often helpful. Here are some general strategies that teachers can use to maximize the success of any parent-teacher meeting.

Communicate Before a Conference

Regular communication with parents throughout the year can prevent issues down the road so that there is not as much to discuss at a single conference. Frequent communication with families is especially critical for students struggling socially, academically, or behaviorally.

Don't put yourself in a situation where parents become upset with you for not alerting them to problems sooner but don't reach out to parents only about trouble either. Proactive and effective teachers always keep parents and guardians informed about what is happening in school.

Have an Agenda

The common goal of all parent-teacher conferences is to benefit the students and both parties are valuable resources in accomplishing this. Parents should know what you will cover and what they should bring up during a conference so that time is not wasted coming up with things to say. Keep conferences organized and focused using an agenda and send this out to parents beforehand.

Come Prepared

Teachers should have examples of student work available for reference at every parent-teacher conference. Rubrics and teacher guides that outline grade-level expectations can also be helpful. Even for students performing at or above academic expectations, samples of work are a great way to show parents how their children are doing.

In the case of student misbehavior, incident logs and anecdotal notes should be prepared to show parents at conferences. Not only does this give parents proof of misconduct but it also provides a buffer for teachers—telling parents that their child demonstrates regularly behaves poorly is tricky territory. Some will deny that their child would behave improperly or accuse the teacher of fabricating the truth and it is your job to supply proof.

Be Prepared for Upset Parents

Every teacher will face an angry parent at some point. Remain calm in the face of confrontation. Remind yourself in times of stress that you don't know all of the baggage that the families of your students carry.

Teachers that are familiar with student families have more success predicting their moods and behaviors before a meeting gets out of hand. Keep in mind that administrators must be invited to any meeting with parents who have been combative in the past. If a parent does become irate during a meeting, the meeting should come to an end and be rescheduled for a different time.

Think About the Room Setup

Teachers should position themselves close to parents for comfort and engagement during conferences. Sitting behind a barrier such as a desk creates distance between you and makes it difficult to communicate.

Create an open area in your room before conferences so that families can move around to study student work, then seat yourselves together on one side of a large table so that papers can be easily passed between you. This will show families that you see them as equals and make movement less awkward.

Begin and End on a Positive Note

Teachers should begin and end every conference with a compliment or (true) anecdote about a student's strength. This frames whatever conversation will follow in a more positive light and makes tougher topics easier to discuss.

Teachers should always prioritize making families of students feel welcome and the students cared about at parent-teacher conferences. No matter what problems or plans have to be discussed, no meeting can be productive if it is bogged down with negativity and critiques.

Be Attentive

Teachers must be active listeners in any parent-teacher conference but taking notes is also important. During a conference, maintain eye contact and open body language. Parents should be allowed to speak without interruption and feel that they are being heard. After a meeting has concluded, jot down important takeaways so that you don't forget.

It is also important to always validate a parent or guardian's feelings so that they don't feel as if they've been dismissed. Parents and teachers both have a student's best interest in mind and this can manifest itself through high emotions.

Avoid Eduspeak

Teachers should avoid the use of acronyms and other terms that might confuse non-educators during conferences as they are often not necessary and get in the way. For those that must be used, explain to parents exactly what they mean and why they are important. Pause after each new point in your meeting to make sure parents are following along.

Parents and guardians need to feel like they can communicate with you and they will not feel this way if you tend to use terms they don't understand. Make your speech accessible, especially for families whose first language is not English.

The first few months of school pass by so quickly. Before you know it, parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner. It’s easy to let the conference season catch us by surprise, but did you know that parent-teacher conferences are one of the best ways to boost parent engagement?

Check out our guide for encouraging parental involvement in your school before, during, and after parent-teacher conferences. If you’re a parent preparing for the conference season, we’ve also included a list of tips to make the most out of meeting with your child’s teacher.

Encouraging Parental Involvement Before Conference Season

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conferenceA parent-teacher conference gives you a chance to discuss a student’s progress in-depth with families. It’s a great opportunity to get parents involved in school and aware of their child’s academic goals. But during the first months of school leading up to conference season, you can begin setting the groundwork for positive parent-teacher relationships.

During the first month of school, send an introduction letter to parents with class guidelines and information about the upcoming year.[12] You could also send out a list of volunteer activities and school events (such as back to school night) so parents know they’re welcome in class. The earlier you bring parents into the classroom, the more comfortable they’ll feel coming to you with questions.

Many of today’s parents prefer digital communication over written notes, so it may be best to send this letter is via email.[5] You can then continue to send messages through text or social media groups, too. As parent-teacher conferences approach, remember to send out a letter or text to parents with dates and times as a reminder.

For Educators: How to Run a Parent-Teacher Conference

Whether this is your first or your fortieth parent-teacher conference, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of these meetings. First, take the time to ask parents about potential barriers to attending and try to make accommodations.[10] You could, for example, do a Skype or phone call instead for families who can’t make it to the school. Studies found that removing barriers like transportation makes parents more likely to attend meetings.[9]

It’s sometimes easy to feel like you have so much information to fit within a short meeting that you don’t know what to tell parents at parent-teacher conferences. Consider putting together a parent-teacher conference form or checklist for each student ahead of time.

Here are a few ideas for items that you could include on the document:

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Classroom behavior feedback [17]
  • Areas for improvement
  • Goal ideas for the upcoming semester [17]
  • Specific questions for parents

That way, you’ll have a handy sheet to refer to during the meeting and a take-home summary for parents.

Begin the conference on a positive note before providing more constructive feedback on a student’s progress. Parent-teacher conferences can be intimidating for families, and starting with positives can help parents feel more receptive to any criticism.[14] Also set a few student goals for the upcoming semester during the meeting to involve parents in the assessment process.[8]

Finally, opportunities for miscommunication can often arise during parent-teacher conferences—especially if families of English-language learning (ELL) students will be attending these meetings.[1] Here are a few tips to encourage positive parent-teacher communication:

  • Give parents time to talk and discuss their own questions about their child’s progress.
  • When teachers do all of the talking during meetings, parents can sometimes feel intimidated.[5]
  • Avoid using educational jargon, which can confuse parents who aren’t as familiar with elementary teaching terms.[7]
  • For families whose primary language isn’t English, let them know that they’re welcome to bring a translator if that would help them feel comfortable.[5]

For Parents: Parent-Teacher Conference Questions and Tips

If you’re a parent, deciding what to say at parent-teacher conferences can feel intimidating. A little preparation beforehand, however, can help you feel confident and ready to discuss your child’s progress. Put together a list of questions you’d like to ask your child’s teacher beforehand so you have a few discussion points ready before you walk in.

Here are some examples of questions to ask at parent-teacher conferences:

  • What do you see as my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • How has my child progressed over the year?[17]
  • What is my child like in class?
  • What can I do to help my child learn at home?[12]
  • Can I see a few examples of my child’s work in class?[12]

While the teacher discusses your child’s progress, try to listen and keep an open mind.[13] Constructive criticism can sometimes be hard to hear, especially when you understand your child’s unique background and challenges better than anyone. However, remember that the teacher likely has your child’s best interest in mind and work together to support your child’s learning. If it would be helpful, take a few notes during the meeting that you can reference later.[11]

Recognize that parent-teacher conferences take a lot of planning, often outside of an educator’s regular hours. After the conference, send a thank-you note to your child’s teacher to let them know you appreciate their time. If you’d like to get more involved in school events, let them know how you’d like to help.

How to Keep Family Engagement Strong After Parent-Teacher Conferences

Once you’ve survived conference season, you’ll have done a lot to build parent engagement in your classroom. But it doesn’t have to end there. Check out these five tips for encouraging positive parent-teacher relationships throughout the year:

Elementary, middle and high school conferences are Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 22 and 23. No classes for students.

APS teachers will meet with parents and guardians the week of November 22 to talk about student progress. There will be conversations about student strengths, interests, behaviors, needs, and learning styles. Discussions will center on expectations, strategies, and next steps.

Most of these talks will occur in virtual meeting rooms as families work, take care of young children, travel, or visit friends and relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s just fine – technology prompted by the pandemic has made it easier for many more of our families to attend parent-teacher conferences over the past couple of years.

Here are a few things parents/guardians can do to help the conference go smoothly and get the information they want and need regarding their children.

Have a discussion with your child about the upcoming conference.

There is nothing wrong with asking your child, “What do you think I am going to hear about at this conference? What do you want me to share with your teacher about you?” Be informed when you walk into the conference.

If you will need a language interpreter, don’t wait.

Tell the teacher about this right away, so the school has time to arrange to have a district interpreter at the conference.

Be on time.

Conferences are often scheduled back-to-back. If you arrive late, chances are you will not have the time you need to visit with the teacher.

Remember that the conference has a time limit. If you have only 20-30 minutes, this may not be the best time to delve deeply into issues that require more time and attention. You can ask for an additional appointment if you have bigger issues to discuss.

Don’t be shy; ask questions!

Write down a few before you go to the conference, and be sure to listen and ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand the teacher’s answers. Some important questions you might want to consider are:

  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does my child get along with classmates?
  • Is my child working up to her ability? Where could she use improvement?
  • What can we do at home to support what you are doing in the classroom?

Keep your cool.

If a difficult subject has to be discussed, keep your temper, stay calm, and keep the student’s needs at the center of the conversation. Getting angry is not going to help and may shut down a conference completely. If you feel yourself getting angry or put on the defense, it’s best to table the conference, gather your wits and reschedule.

Don’t be afraid to ask for resources.

The teacher, counselor, nurse, administration, or social workers at a school can often provide supports for children and families like Clothing Bank referrals, health information, tutoring programs, wellness services, and other supports.

Follow up with any suggestions.

Try what the teacher may suggest to help your child and let the teacher know if it is working or not. Staying in contact with your child’s teacher by email, phone, or in-person when possible will help build a school and family relationship that can really make a difference in a student’s school experience.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

1. Use a Pre-Conference Letter

I send home a pre-conference letter for my families to fill out. This serves two purposes… 1. It gets parents more invested in attending the conference and 2. It gives me the opportunity to plan the conference out ahead of time (What do the parents want to discuss? What are their concerns/questions?)

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

2. Schedule Enough Conference Time

Unfortunately, conferences may be the only time you have contact with some of your student’s families. As you create your conference schedule, take each individual student into account. No one likes to come to an appointment and feel like they were rushed out the door. I always schedule a little extra time for those of my students who are struggling academically or behaviorally. I want to make sure that I have enough time for a thorough conversation with those parents, so that we are all on the same page to ensure their child’s success.

The same goes for those parents who like to ask lots of questions. Make sure that you schedule enough time for them to get their questions out and answered. This is where that pre-conference letter comes in handy. If the parents have a lot they want to discuss, you know that particular conference needs to be longer. ?

3. Have a Plan!

I use a short “cheat sheet” to keep the parent-teacher conferences flowing and on track. It is a quick snapshot of each student. You can quickly list out test scores, academic strengths, areas for improvement, and any questions/concerns the parents listed on their pre-conference form. I also include an area to write out any behavior concerns I may have. As an added bonus, I attach some home connection ideas for both reading and math. These are just some fun activities/games parents can do to strengthen their child’s academics.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

4. Begin the Conference with Praise

First off, I always Start the conference with a positive. This seems like a no-brainer until you get in the position where you have a lot to say and so little time to say it. Starting off on a positive note will get you much further than beginning with what needs to be said. (Which may quite possibly be negative.) We all know those parents that we have been waiting to conference with all quarter, but it is important to remember to take a few moments to talk about positive things that are happening. If I can’t think of anything positive, which is very rare, I will usually say something like this.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

5. Grades.

The reason why the parents are at this conference! When I am going through grades in my grade book, whether it is academic or behavior, I am very careful when there is an “Improving” and a “Needs Improvement” grade. Nine times out of ten, I will choose Improving. This is not to say the student doesn’t need to work on anything, it just means I have seen improvement, and it is noticeable. If for some reason I have to give a “Needs Improvement” grade, I always have an intervention in mind to show how we are going to set up success for that student.

To me, if the student is not improving, I am not doing my job to the fullest. I consider myself a good teacher, so most if not all of my students are improving. Am I going to tell that parent their student needs to work on something? You bet I am! Just keep in mind that you can send the same message to parents, without checking that “Needs Improvement” box.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

6. Behavior

This is most often the hardest part of the conference, especially for those students who tend to have chronic behavior issues in class. The important piece to remember here is to be honest, but in a caring way. We have to keep in mind that this is their child. If you have some difficult things to say, don’t be cruel, just let them know what issues their child is having in class. Also let them know the interventions that you have put in place to help their child be successful. Allow the parents the opportunity to offer suggestions/thoughts as to what may also help their child succeed. By working as a team, you are showing the student that they have a lot of support in their corner.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

Click here to download my editable behavior chart!

7. Involve the Parent

They are PARENT-Teacher conferences after all. As the conference comes to a close, now is the time to address any questions or concerns the parent may have. This is where that pre-conference letter comes in handy. I have always found this to be so important, because they have to feel comfortable communicating with and coming to you first. If there are no questions, I will ask them if they are getting my weekly newsletters and emails. I will also ask if they understand all paperwork coming home, like my parent communication logs. I also ask about the social aspect of their child. “How are they doing on the playground? What do they say about school when they get home?”

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

Most parents are willing to share any suggestions or feedback. This ends the parent-teacher conference on a positive note, because you took the time to address their concerns. This is a great way to let parents know that you are an open door, and willing to work with them for the success of their child. Take a minute to explain the home connections and how the parents can support your work in the classroom.

You could also give the parents a few things to work on at home! We recommend our Monthly Fluency Passages or Addition Math Fact Fluency Strips!

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

-Produced by Janessa Fletcher and Emily Garcia

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How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

COVID-19 continues to change how families and educators communicate with each other. Parent-teacher conferences can be a good chance to connect. But they may take a little more planning — and understanding — during the pandemic.

Here are 10 things to know about parent-teacher conferences this year.

For families

1. Finding time to meet may be more difficult than usual.

You may have more to juggle these days, between your job, your child’s learning, and other family demands. Your child’s teacher is probably juggling many of the same things. If none of the proposed conference times work for you, let the teacher know. Share some times that are better for you.

2. You have essential information to share with your child’s teacher.

As the pandemic changes, kids may be moving between in-person and distance learning. If your child has been learning at home, you may have been seeing strengths and struggles the teacher isn’t aware of. The more you share with your child’s teacher, the more you can work together to help your child thrive.

3. All questions are good questions.

You probably have questions about your child’s academic skills and progress. You may want to know what your child is expected to do at this grade level.

But you may also have questions about the new ways your child is learning this year — from technology to schedules. You might want the teacher to show you how to get into Google Classroom or another tool. It’s OK to ask about those things, too.

4. Building a relationship with your child’s teacher is important — even at a distance.

The strains of the pandemic can make it feel harder to connect with your child’s teacher. Use this meeting as an opportunity to build a strong parent-teacher relationship.

5. This is still new for everyone, including teachers.

With every change in the pandemic, teachers have to figure out how to best teach their students. They’ll appreciate hearing about any bright spots so far. Thank them for all they’re doing during these uncertain times.

For teachers

1. Meeting during the pandemic might make families anxious.

Many families now have some experience with videoconferencing. But meeting with educators virtually can still bring challenges for families. Some may not be familiar with the technology you’re using. Or they might not be comfortable speaking on camera. (That may be especially true if English isn’t their first language.) It can help to send them information about the videoconference tool before the meeting.

If your school has in-person conferences, families might wonder about social distancing rules. They may also worry about their health. Make sure families know and understand all of the health and safety protocols for meeting at school. Offer virtual meetings for those who prefer them.

2. Families have information that can help you support your students.

Families know about their child’s strengths, challenges, and interests. They also have information about how their child is adjusting to learning during the pandemic. Ask what’s working — and what’s not working — with ongoing changes and new ways of learning.

3. Consider asking the student to attend the conference.

Students may be at home with their families during virtual conferences. It might feel uncomfortable for students to know they’re being talked about in the other room. If students attend the conference (or part of it), you can all talk about how things are going.

4. Empathy is important.

Families may be feeling more stressed than usual. Take a moment to ask how families are doing. Listen and respond with empathy. Assure families that you’re on a team together to support their child.

5. Small moments are worth celebrating.

When times are stressful, it can be hard to see the positives. But it’s important to acknowledge any progress or success. Share small moments you’ve noticed, like an insight from an assignment or a thoughtful question raised in a conversation. Thank families for partnering with you.

A school psychologist offers advice on nurturing this critical relationship.

Andrea Canter, PhD, NCSP

  • Preparing for the Parent-Teacher Conference
  • During the Conference

Here’s some required reading for all parents who are heading into the school conference season. It’s brought to you from our friends at the National Association of School Psychologists, and was originally published on their website, Our thanks to NASP for sharing it with us.

Home and school—everyone shares the goal of helping children learn and feel successful. Research has proven that when parents and teachers work together, everyone benefits: Students tend to earn higher grades, perform better on tests, attend school more regularly, have better behavior, and show more positive attitudes toward themselves and toward school. School programs that include strong parent involvement are more effective. Yet, collaboration between parents and teachers is not always a smooth process.

Establishing an effective home-school partnership requires efforts from both teachers and parents to create a trusting, equitable relationship. Sometimes parents must first deal with their own discomfort with schools and teachers. If parents have experienced difficulty in school, then they may have to overcome negative feelings that carry over from their own childhood. If parents are new to the community, come from another culture, or do not speak fluent English, then they may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of attending a conference with their child’s teacher or participating in a Family Night or School Open House.

Try not to worry or be afraid of a conference with your child’s teacher. Even if you have talked frequently with school personnel about your child’s failing grades or misbehavior, a conference may be an opportunity to start a cooperative partnership with teachers.

Preparing for the Parent-Teacher Conference

At least once per year, and frequently each semester (or more often), you will receive a notice of a parent-teacher conference. Perhaps you have requested the conference yourself. There are many steps you can take to assure that the conference is productive and positive:

Assemble relevant materials. Gather appropriate materials to help prepare for the conference. This can include records from previous schools and school years, such as report cards, test scores, immunization and other health records, and past and current correspondence between home and school.

Review these materials. Make sure you have gathered all the material you need. If anything important is missing, such as a report from your family physician, try to locate it and add to your file. As a tip, once you have started a collection of your child’s records, it is easy to add new material each year. At conference time, if you or the teacher has specific concerns, you can then find whatever might be important to share with the teacher.

Talk with your child before the conference. Children should understand why the conference is taking place (is it due to a problem or is it a routine meeting held for all parents) and be assured that parents are seeking ways to help and learn about what their children are doing in school. Find out if your child has any specific concerns about schoolwork or relationships with classmates.

Acquire the handbook for students. If your district, school, or classroom has a handbook for students, be sure to obtain a copy well ahead of the conference and review it. In particular look for listings of expectations for behavior and attendance so that you might anticipate what questions the teacher may ask of you. Also, try to assemble a list of questions you may want to ask the teacher if you are unsure of material in the handbook.

Be familiar with your child’s homework assignments. If your child has homework be familiar with the assignments and how your child has been performing. Is the work getting done? Does your child seem to understand the assignments? Does the work seem too easy or too difficult?

Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your child’s teacher. Is my child meeting expectations for learning and behavior? How has my child performed on daily class assignments, on tests, on homework assignments? How does my child compare to others in basic skills? Does my child follow school rules or does my child exhibit any behavior problems? If my child is struggling in any area, what has been tried to improve performance? Does my child pay attention in class? What else can be done at home or at school? What are my child’s strengths? Are there any concerns about my child’s health, or adjustment? Are there materials or resources that you would recommend? How does my child get along with other students?

Referral to special education. If you or the teacher have concerns about referral to special education, find out about your rights ahead of time. State and community agencies and advocate organizations can provide this information, and all schools should also have a printed copy of parents’ rights under state and federal law.

Be ready to collaborate. Generally, teachers will give parents bad news because they want to help the child do better and not to place blame on the parent or child. But sometimes the message does not come across that way, and parents naturally become defensive and protective, maybe even angry. Assume the teacher has your child’s best interests in mind, and respond calmly and tactfully. Indicate that you are most concerned with solving the problem and helping your child succeed. Offer to meet further to discuss the problem and to work out a solution. Remember that teachers are often as afraid to deliver bad news as parents are to hear it.

During the Conference

Listen carefully. It is perfectly acceptable to take notes. This is particularly helpful if one parent or other involved relative cannot attend. It can also help you remember details so that you can ask questions later.

Offer your perspective. Many times teachers will ask you about your child’s activities at home and your views of your child’s strengths and areas where help might be needed. Even if the teacher does not ask, speak up and provide your observations and any concerns.

You want to hear good news about your child. If the teacher does not offer any positive comments, ask directly, “What does my child do well?” And remember that teachers often hear only negative comments, too. Be sure to try to offer a compliment, a thank you to let the teacher know you appreciate what they are trying to do to help your child-even when what the teacher is trying to do may not be working.

Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you do not understand something or feel your concerns are not being addressed, then ask the teacher. Teachers and other educators easily slip into jargon and forget that many parents are not familiar with the terms they use every day. Ask what test scores mean and what the results mean for your child. Stop and ask for explanation of unfamiliar terms or programs. Not understanding can quickly lead to misunderstanding.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis is a journalist, author, speaker, and certified parent educator who writes about modern parenting and discipline.

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter. She has more than 15 years of experience crafting stories in the branding, licensing, and entertainment industries.

Emma Tunbridge / Corbis / Getty Images

When you were a child, you probably saw your parents head off for a parent-teacher conference at the school. Maybe you dreaded these meetings because of the scolding you thought you’d get afterward. Or perhaps you looked forward to the proud look on your parents’ face after hearing the nice things your teacher would say.

Regardless of your past experiences, you have only a vague notion of what a parent-teacher conference was all about and what happens at such a meeting. Now that you're an adult and responsible for taking part in these events, let's define what you can expect during a parent-teacher conference.

What Is a Parent-Teacher Conference?

A parent-teacher conference is a meeting between a student’s parents and teacher or teachers, to discuss the child’s progress academically, socially and with regard to expected classroom behavior. Other topics, such as homework, emotional challenges, or issues with friends, may also come up.

Your child's teacher has to meet with every parent in one day. Some schools split the time up and offer afternoon conferences and evening ones.

Time spent per child's guardians is usually limited to 10 to 15 minutes so be respectful of other people's time and keep the conversation to the point.

What the Conference Covers and How to Prepare

The best parent-teacher conferences follow a set agenda. The teacher should have examples of your child’s schoolwork, any relevant test scores, and observations of the child’s class participation, academic work, and social growth to share with you.

As a parent, it's helpful to prepare some questions for the teacher conference about anything that confused you or raised a concern during the previous few months of school. Again, be aware of the time you spend with the teacher. If you can't get all of your questions answered, ask for a meeting or phone call at another time.

Frequency of Conferences

You most likely will have one or two regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences each year, as a routine, to stay updated on your child's education. Check the school calendar so you can plan in advance for you and your significant other to attend.

There can be exceptions like if your child is struggling academically or is having other types of problems the teacher may suggest an additional conference. Don't dread this event. Instead, treat it as an opportunity to intervene in your child's school experience in a positive way.

Listen at least as much as you talk, and keep an open mind as you communicate with your kid's teacher. After all, the child you see at home rarely presents the exact same persona and behavior at school.

You can ask for a special parent-teacher conference if you have concerns about your child's progress. You might want to request a teacher conference if you aren't getting enough information about your child's education through notes, emails and returned class work from the teacher. It's certainly challenging to fit a conference into your workday, but the time spent now will prevent future disruptions if your child continues along a downward slide academically.

How Parent-Teacher Conferences Differ as Your Child Advances Grades

While parent-teacher conferences are routine in the preschool and elementary school years, they most likely will wane as your child gets older. In middle school and high school, your child is increasingly able to take responsibility for his or her own learning. You will get information about the curriculum and school procedures at events such as back to school night, curriculum night and meet the teachers night.

As your child ages, the feedback you get from teachers will largely reside on the progress reports and graded class and homework you receive. Many school systems have an online portal you can use to track your child's progress in academics, tests, and homework. Still, don't be shy about asking your child to share his or her academic progress with you — or even asking the teachers — so you can make sure everything is on track.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

Some parents go to conferences expecting glowing reports, but many of us dread them. Maybe it’s because, like me, you’ve had a prior bad experience.

I remember going to my first parent-teacher conference when my oldest child was in kindergarten and having the teacher run through a long list of complaints about my son. He didn’t sit still at circle time, didn’t want to write, interrupted her and on and on. The message I got was, “You’re not raising a good son.” I was so shocked and hurt, I couldn’t respond. I felt powerless.

It’s not easy to face these conferences when you know that your loving, giving child has labels like stubborn, unfocused, disruptive and annoying, and he just isn’t built for the demands of most classrooms. But as parents, we know that negative labels are not the entirety of who our child is, and that our child needs some understanding and support in order to succeed at school.

At the beginning of the school year, find out from the teacher the best way to communicate so there are no misunderstandings. (Pick–up time is not a good time to talk; there are too many listening ears.) Email is pretty much the standard at all grade levels, though there are teachers who prefer phone calls.

Contact the teacher two weeks before the scheduled conference to share your concerns and to mention the topics you want the teacher to discuss with you. Even if you can’t identify any concerns yet, reach out to them! This communication is your opportunity to reinforce the respectful, positive tone you want for your relationship.

Be sure to include some effective praise. Keep the email (or call) brief and to the point. Here is a sample email:

I want to thank you for the experience, expertise and compassion you bring to your classroom. My child, [Name], is getting a great education here at [Name of School]. I noticed that you had the classroom well-organized and labeled when we attended Back-to-School night. I could see that you put a lot of effort into creating an inviting and well-prepared classroom.

Parent-teacher conferences are coming up, and I (or, my partner and I, etc.) wanted to reach out to bring up a few concerns that I/we have about my/our child. I know that you will have a lot to share with me/us in our short meeting, and I’d/we’d like to be sure there are no surprises for anyone.

As you know, my child has (AD/HD, anxiety, ODD, depression…) and that it impacts his/her ability to (stay on task, deal with transitions, complete assignments, keep their hands to themselves, talk to their neighbor, not blurt out in class…).

Homework is a significant struggle every night. I can see my child is starting to dislike school and wants to give up on all school work. Homework takes two to three times longer than what you told us it should at Back-to-School night. It is interfering with sleep, dinner and down-time. I would like to discuss some options for making it more manageable.

Can you tell me what you are seeing in the classroom? What is your biggest concern?

I would also love to hear about what is going well, and see some examples of his/her work.

I want [Child’s Name] to feel supported by all of us, and to know that we are all working together.

Thank you for your time, thoughtfulness and teaching!

Plan Ahead for the Conference

The final step in making conferences constructive is to plan ahead. Organize and prioritize your concerns, and be prepared with your own data to bring to parent-teacher conferences.

For example, a common complaint is the challenge of getting homework done. It can take hours, include tears, and is frustrating for parents and students. If the stress of homework is negatively affecting your child, then keep a homework log and share it with the teacher. Log more than just the time; include the work, whether the child knew how to do it, the breakdowns experienced, the breaks taken, and everything else.

Don’t surprise the teacher with the log at your conference. Do include a summary of it when you email the teacher prior to the conference. Conferences should never be the first time either teacher or parents hear about a concern.

How to make parents feel comfortable during a parent or teacher conference

Or, if you know the teacher is already frustrated with your child, be prepared to discuss why, what you do at home and suggestions for school. Gather your information, including reports from private therapists or doctors. And be sure to ask your child.

One way to get details is to sit with your child and have a piece of paper with a line down the middle. On the left, list what is working and on the right, list what isn’t working. Go through the entire day, from arriving at school to heading home. Explain to your child that how he or she is experiencing school is important for you and the teacher to know in order to make it better.

Many children will not feel comfortable saying negative things about a teacher. You can promise not to show the paper to the teacher, and instead summarize the feedback.

Parents can do the same exercise, writing down what is and isn’t working. Compare it to your child’s sheet. From there, pick one or two things you consider priorities, and that is what you share with the teacher. You should also have some specific examples of things to praise (such as how much your child enjoys the nice comments on her papers and tests when she does well).

While parent-teacher conferences can be hard to face, it can help to realize that the teacher may be just as nervous as you are when it comes to having uncomfortable conversations. By opening the door with praise, planning and prevention, you start on common ground, making it easier to focus on the reason you are there—to help your child find success at school.

About Anna Stewart

Anna Stewart is a family advocate, writer, speaker, facilitator and single mother of 3 unique kids. She is passionate about helping families learn to advocate WITH their children and teens and supporting those with AD/HD. Anna is the author of School Support for Students with AD/HD.

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