During the Conference

  • Open on a positive note. Start with a positive statement about the student’s abilities, schoolwork or interests.
  • Stress collaboration. A statement such as, "I’d like to discuss with you how we might work together to improve John’s study habits," gets the relationship off on the right foot.
  • Listen to what parents say. Despite the fact that we spend nearly a third of our lives listening, most adults are poor listeners. We concentrate on what we’re going to say next, or we let our minds drift off to other concerns, or we hear only part of what a speaker is saying. You’ll get more out of a parent conference if you listen carefully to what parents are saying to you.
  • Ask about the student. Respect family privacy, but remember to ask parents and students if there’s anything they think you should know about the student (such as study habits, relationship with siblings, important events in his or her life) which may affect schoolwork.
  • Use body language. Nonverbal cues set the mood of the conference. Smile, nod, make eye contact, and lean forward slightly to let parents know you’re interested and approving.
  • Avoid jargon. Education jargon like "criterion-referenced testing," "rubrics", "perceptual skills," and "least restrictive environment" can create unnecessary barriers with parents.
  • Focus on strengths. It’s very easy for parents to feel defensive because they feel responsible for their child’s performance. You can help by reviewing the child’s strengths and areas of need, rather than by dwelling on criticism or by stressing weaknesses.
  • Be specific in your comments. Parents may flounder if you deal only in generalities. Instead of saying, "She doesn’t accept responsibility," pin down the problem by pointing out, "Amanda had a week to finish her book report, but she wrote only two paragraphs."
  • Offer a suggested course of action, even for outstanding achievers. Parents appreciate being given some specific direction. If the student is present, encourage the student to contribute suggestions.
  • Ask for parents’ opinions. Let parents know that you’re interested in their opinions, that you’re eager to answer their questions, and that you want to work with them throughout the year to help give their child the best possible education.
  • Summarize the discussion. Before the conference ends, review the discussion and the actions that you, the parents, and the student have decided to take.
  • Wind up on a positive note. When you can, save at least one encouraging comment or positive statement about the student for the end of the conference.
  • Keep notes of the conference. You may need to refer later to discussions and agreements. Make notes as soon as possible after the conference, while details are fresh in your mind.
  • Meet again if you need to. If you feel you need more time, arrange another meeting later rather than trying to rush everything before the kids get back from art class.