The Dos and Don’ts for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences
Navigating the school system can be difficult, but don't fret: Sarah Brown Wessling is here to help. Each month Sarah will offer insight into the classroom and share tips on how to help your child flourish in school.
If you saw it, you probably wouldn’t think it was one of my favorite times of the school year. Tables of teachers scattered around the gym or cafeteria. Lines of parents, patiently waiting their turn to meet with each of their student’s teachers. Some just want to check in and put a name with a face. Others want to learn about specifics in the classroom or share concerns. Whatever the reason, I’ve always enjoyed these conversations because I leave them with some bit of insight I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. For all the ways that parent-teacher conferences can be positive experiences, they can just as quickly turn sour.
Click through the gallery to read some of my favorite dos and don’ts for making conferences an opportunity to build a better support between home and school for our students.
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DO bring your child with you
I enjoy it when parents bring their children to the conferences as well. It gives us a chance to talk together as a team and it can eliminate a lot of miscommunication. If we need to talk about specifics from the class, having the student right there is very productive. Occasionally, there may be conversations that I want to have with just the parent. In those cases, I have asked for a few minutes with the parents or suggested a follow-up phone conversation.
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DON’T berate or put down your child in front of the teacher
This is one of the most uncomfortable situations I’m ever in as a teacher. Students make mistakes and there are consequences to deal with when organization lapses or apathy sets in. However, trying to show support for the teacher by making the student feel ashamed is never good for learning, not to mention embarrassing for the child. It can take many days for a student to even want to look at me after a conference like this, which only impacts the learning process in a negative way.
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DO bring a problem-solving state of mind
Conferences are ideal for assessing any ways we can work together to further help our students. If parents and teachers both bring a mindset committed to solving problems rather than placing blame, the students will benefit. Asking about resources or growth plans are great cues to give a teacher if you want to nudge him/her in a problem-solving direction.
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DON’T accuse or blame
This only closes the conversation instead of opening it up. When it comes to learning, the problems may be complex, but simple solutions can often be the most liberating.
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DO be respectful of other parents’ time
Teachers are usually on a pretty tight schedule for conferences and being respectful of that time means that you’re also being respectful of other parents and students. If your time is coming to a close and you still have ground to cover, ask for a follow-up conversation or conference. Usually the teacher will give you some signals that it’s time to wrap up. When she says, “It’s been really nice talking to you” or “we could finish this conversation over the phone later” that’s your cue to make room for the next family.
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DON’T talk about siblings all the time
Once you’ve been in a school district for a while, it’s very possible that your teacher has had older siblings. It’s fun and important to catch up with how they’re doing, but it’s equally important to focus on the current student.
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DO be ready to share helpful details from home
Teachers never want to pry, but we do rely on you to let us know if there are things going on at home that may be contributing to both positive and negative outcomes at school. Whether it’s a new schedule, childcare responsibilities, making the varsity team or a new job, these insights all help in understanding the full scope of a student’s experience.
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DON’T be afraid to contact the teacher if you can’t make it
We know that families are busy and sometimes, despite the very best efforts, the conference just can’t work out. In these cases, contact the teacher anyway, explain the situation and see if an email dialogue, a phone conversation, or an after-school chat on a different day would help to make this important connection.
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And most importantly, DO expect to hear something wonderful about your child
Sometimes conferences can be tough. A good friend of mine would often get discouraged because when her child was in a slump, that’s all she would hear. She absolutely dreaded conference night. Regardless of poor choices or real struggles, every child deserves to be praised. Before conferences I always go through my class lists and jot down both a growth goal and celebration for each student. There’s nothing like that look on a parent’s face when you get to share that “something special” his/her child brings to class each day to remind us all that there’s something positive to build on.
Sarah Brown Wessling is an English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. In 2010 she was selected as the National Teacher of the Year and spent the year traveling the world as an ambassador for education. She is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel and a mother of three. She continues to write, speak, and teach throughout the country, but always relishes her role as “mom.”