Parent-teacher conferences have been an important part of educating generations of K–12 students. Successful conferences require both parties to listen respectfully to what each has to say, and they’re a proven way to help students.
A parent-teacher conference is a breeze when the student is doing well, but teachers are often in the difficult position of explaining to parents that their child is struggling with some aspect of schoolwork. This can trigger a wide range of responses. Some parents will blame their child, while others will blame themselves or feel overwhelmed or inadequate.
Teachers need to assure parents that the conference isn’t about assigning blame. All parents can encourage their children and advocate for them, including those who can’t provide much help with their children’s homework.
Making parent-teacher conferences count
The primary purpose of a parent-teacher conference is for the teacher to brief the parents on the child’s academic progress and share anything notable about the child’s behavior and development at school.
It’s helpful to let parents know if their child is attentive in class, participates in discussions, or has some potential that might only be obvious in the classroom. This is a great time to give parents suggestions about how they can help their child and to tell them about any additional resources available — like enrichment and remedial programs — that could be helpful.
While the student’s academic progress is the main focus of parent-teacher conferences, the sessions are much more than simply an opportunity to tell parents how their child can improve their grades.
Parent-teacher conferences, which are typically held only once per semester and seldom last more than 30 minutes, are also a rare opportunity for the teacher to learn from the parents about the child’s patterns for doing school work, reading, and preparing for tests. As a teacher, you need to listen closely when parents answer questions about anything that might affect the student’s academic performance.
When you’re assessing the student’s academic performance, you want to get as much information as possible to determine whether they need help and what kind. It’s important to discuss factors outside the classroom that could influence a student’s behavior, classroom focus, motivation, and their relationships with schoolmates.
Your discussion with parents can touch on the student’s homelife, family dynamics, or family finances. While they’re sometimes awkward, frank discussions are necessary for the teacher to understand the student’s challenges and for the parents to learn how they can help their child reach their academic potential.
It may be valuable to include school staff — such as counselors — in your meeting with the parents. While they’re a lot of work, the most effective parent-teacher conferences boost family involvement — and that promotes positive outcomes.
Making preparation easier
Preparing for parent-teacher conferences is one reason why teachers work such long hours. Teachers usually are their own clerical staff, and they can use all the help they can get just to stay organized.
School administrators usually determine the time frame for parent-teacher conferences well in advance, when they set the school calendar. But parents might be working multiple jobs or have other children to care for, so finding a time that works for everyone can require some back and forth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced the widespread use of online communications — typically Zoom or FaceTime — into K–12 education. Although these options aren’t as ideal as a face-to-face meeting, they might make scheduling the parent-teacher conference a little easier.
No matter how you conduct a parent-teacher conference, always keep in mind that these conversations are very important to the academic success of the student. They’re the best opportunity for teachers to learn about their students’ lives and challenges outside the classroom, to hear the concerns of parents, and to plan a path forward for the student.