Five tips for great parent-teacher conferences

Lay the groundwork
Conferences shouldn’t be the first time you communicate with parents. Make contact with them consistently about positive things beforehand, so there’s already a relationship. Send a survey to parents before conferences to find out what they want to talk about, or have students fill out self-evaluations and talk with the student about their responses as the first step to creating a plan to resolve a problem.

Accentuate the positive
Parents don’t want to hear a bunch of negatives about their child. While teachers must be honest when they have real concerns, it’s best to frame them in terms of working collaboratively to arrive at solutions rather than listing missed assignments and behavior problems. One way to send the message that you’re on the same team is to have parents sit next to you at a table instead of across from you at your desk.

Be specific
Instead of trying to cover everything, have a set idea of specific topics to talk about. That might mean a deep dive into the report card with all parents, or a different topic for each, depending on the needs of the child. In either case, have specific examples of student work to illustrate your point.

Clarify, don’t mystify
Make sure parents have a clear grasp on the terminology. Avoid education-specific acronyms and jargon like “IEP,” “SLD,” and “malleable intelligence” unless you’re sure that parents will understand what you mean. Use conferences to dispel myths or misconceptions about education.

Follow up
Parent-teacher conferences are most effective if they’re not a one-off event, but instead part of a larger relationship with parents. Give parents tasks to complete with their child when they go home. Ask them to come up with goals for the school year together, or to take home student portfolios and write questions and comments for their children to continue the discussion.