Here’s what I learned:
- Make expectations explicit– Parents will be much more willing to work with you when you have made your classroom practice and expectations explicit. Each teacher is different, so it is important to help guide parents through this process. For example, my syllabus was so specific, I even put a note in there that I only answered emails from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. Why did I do this? Well, parents would email me a question at dinner time when I was feeding my toddler or after 10 pm when I was asleep, and then expect an answer right away. This was an unreasonable expectation because my time at home was time for my family and I wanted them to know this upfront.
- Say something positive about the student– I don’t care if that student set his classroom desk on fire; find one nice thing to say immediately. This helps the parent know that you do see the good in their child and that the situation can be improved. Say something like, “Little Johnny is so creative and I love his energy in class. However, I think that we need to work on helping him express himself in a different way because setting the classroom desk on fire is not appropriate.” Practice whatever you will be saying before the meeting as well; this will help you when you are struggling to find that one nice thing.
- Document everything– Don’t just tell a parent that their child has not been completing work, show them. Parents need evidence. So, keep examples of student work. They are more likely to believe you when you can show them the proof. If you haven’t done a good job documenting within your classroom then parents might use your weakness to influence the outcomes of the meeting. You have to work as a team, so you need to be as organized as possible.
- Keep cool– Even if the parent calls you a liar to your face, keep calm. You have to remember that children are extensions of their parents so no parent wants to hear that their child is not progressing in the way in which they are expected. They feel as if they have done something wrong so they get defensive immediately. Don’t take it personal and remember that you are a professional and you are the educational expert. Feel free to pay their child another compliment and redirect the conversation so that it is more about problem-solving than name calling.
These four steps helped me through my transition to a new school and after much reflection, I realized that in any conference with an adult, these steps still ring true.
- What techniques for handling parent conferences would you add to this list?
- Think about the best parent conference you have ever experienced. Why did the conference go so well?
- Do you ever call for an administrator to participate in parent conferences? If so, explain why.
Leticia Skae is a Literacy Coach in Metro Nashville Public Schools and a graduate of Vanderbilt University. She’s in her 13th year in education and is an advocate for culturally responsive teaching and teacher retention. You can find her on Twitter @LSkae. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.