Parent Teacher Conferences can be stressful, scary, and nerve-wracking, but they should be informative, fun, productive, and focus on ways to help each child be as successful as possible to reach their own goals, parents' goals, and teacher(s)' goals.
1. Be prepared: I know this seems obvious - but go that extra mile. I recommend reading over the report carefully and finding patterns. Note the areas of strengths and challenges per subject and see if these fall under larger categories.
Soandso Student's areas of strength: Participation, understanding of content, and work ethic
Soandso Student's areas of stretch: Organization and study habits
Also, try to have samples of student work that shows their success/growth and other works that demonstrate a need for areas of stretch.
2. Parents have questions and comments - invite them to go first: Many parents come with notes or questions about various areas and it helps them to share these when you get started. By doing so, you can see if you're on the same page or discover any discrepancies.
3. LISTEN: Truly listen and write down what parents have to share. Encourage them to share positives first about their child as they are quite quick to jump to what isn't working and what their child needs to improve upon (as these areas are what parents often see first in report cards!). Too often, I've seen teachers dominate the conference not allowing the parents to say much at all.
4. Parents view children as extensions of themselves: Be sensitive to this and be supportive! Parents work very hard to help their child become the person you encounter on a regular basis. When a child isn't working to their full potential, parents can often view this as a personal attack.
5. Include the Child's Perspective: If the child cannot be at the conference, I highly recommend you have students reflect upon their learning, their areas of strength/stretch and set goals for themselves along with their action plans to reach those goals. Share these with the parents as this sometimes correlates with teachers' and parents' viewpoints, and often highlight discrepancies. Ideally, having the student present is amazing as the pathway to open communication can be much clearer.
6. Remember to start with positives and end with positives. You can insert the areas of stretch in between, but it's important to share the highlights and have the parents remember all the successes their child is having in school - no matter how small - they're relevant.
7. Focus on solutions and stop harping on the problems. When parents and teachers just complain about a child's lack of organizational skills, nothing gets accomplished - come up with an action plan - such as a way to compile all students' subject folders into one binder and having a clear folder that is labeled: Homework/Work To Do and Homework/Work To Turn In. Parents appreciate proactive positive problem-solving and helpful solutions more than just being stuck and rehashing their child's struggle.
8. Don't make assumptions! Have extra copies of the report ready to distribute. Don't assume parents have read the report - some of them may not have had time or access if their internet wasn't working (for online reports) or if their printer was jammed, or if they just couldn't seem to locate it. Also, don't assume parents know of all their child's successes in school. Perhaps their child goes home and doesn't share much at all of what they're doing, learning, or what's happening socially. Share these items and you'll be surprised how much parents may not know about their child's successes and/or struggles.
9. Provide extra resources: This tip really goes hand in hand with the preparation tip, but it's a lovely way to end the conference. Give a list of websites that can help stretch students' skills in various subject areas that you have found to be beneficial. Also, provide handouts from Chip Wood's Yardsticks for what to expect at different grade levels, academically, socially, and emotionally (have copies for your grade level, the one below, and the one above your grade level to help parents see where their child falls in various categories). Any other resources that you think would be beneficial to distribute and relevant (such as ways to stay organized or study tips), provide these as well (I recommend having these resources also available online in case they misplace the items you give them).
10. Spread the love: Just as children need our love and support - so do parents. They need to know you care about their child (genuinely) and that you are there to help and support the child. Part of your job is to also spread that love to the parents - it's a partnership after all!
11. Be available: While the conference is a perfect place to talk about successes and areas of stretch, it's not the only time you should check in with parents. Invite them to reach out to you with questions/comments by e-mail/phone (whatever you are most comfortable with). I have a policy that I get back to all within 24 hours. If, for some reason, they do not hear back from me after 24 hours, I ask that they re-send their e-mail or leave another voicemail to help me get back to them in a timely fashion.
What have you found to be successful for parent teacher conferences?