Communicating with parents is one of the most important things we do as teachers. When we can work together with a child's family toward common goals, we improve the atmosphere for learning.
Most successful teacher-family "teams" begin with a conference, usually one conducted before there's a real need to meet.
Here are some tips to help make all your family conferences productive and successful:
Invite both parents
Encourage both parents to attend conferences when possible. Misunderstandings are less common if both parents hear what you have to say, and you'll be able to gauge the kind of support both parents give the child.
Make contact early
You'll get your relationship with parents off to a good start if you contact them early in the year, perhaps with a memo or newsletter sent home. Give parents an outline of what their children will be studying, and let them know you'll be happy to meet with them during the year. (Be sure to say how and when they may contact you for conferences.)
Allow enough time
Schedule plenty of time for the meeting. If you're scheduling back-to-back conferences, be sure to allow enough time between them so you can make necessary notes on the just-concluded conference and prepare for the upcoming one.
Be ready for questions
Be prepared to answer specific questions parents may have. They're likely to ask questions such as:
- What is my child's ability level?
- Is my child working up to his/her ability level?
- How is my child doing in specific subjects?
- Does my child cause any trouble?
- Does my child have any specific skills or abilities in schoolwork?
Get your papers organized in advance
Assemble your grade book, test papers, samples of the student's work, attendance records, and other pertinent data together ahead of time. That way you won't be fumbling through stacks on your desk during the meeting.
Have in mind a general-but flexible-outline of what you're going to say, including a survey of student progress, a review of his or her strengths and needs, and proposed plan of action.
Open on a positive note
Begin conferences on a warm, positive note to get everyone relaxed. Start with a positive statement about the child's abilities or work or interests.
Structure the session
As soon as the parents arrive, review the structure of the conference-the why, what, how, and when-so you'll both have an "agenda." (Remember, of course, that parents often come with their own agendas or questions they want answered, so you'll have to be flexible.)
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 whole week to finish up her book report, but she only wrote two paragraphs."
Offer a suggested course of action
Parents appreciate being given some specific direction. If Jane is immature, it might be helpful to suggest parents give her a list of weekly chores, allow her to take care of a pet, or give her a notebook to write down assignments.
Ask for parents' opinions
Let parents know you're interested in their opinions, are eager to answer their questions, and want to work with them throughout the year to help make their child's education the best.
Focus on strengths
It's very easy for parents to feel defensive, since many of them see themselves in their children. You'll help if you review the child's strengths and areas of need, rather than dwelling on criticism or stressing weaknesses.
Let the parent know you want to work together in the best interests of the child. A statement like "You need to see me as soon as possible to discuss Johnny's poor study habits" only arouses hostility, while "I'd like to discuss with you how we might work together to improve Johnny's study habits" gets the relationship off on the right foot.
Ask about the child
You don't want to pry, of course, but remember to ask parents if there's anything they think you should know about the child (such as study habits, relationship with siblings, any important events in his or her life) which may affect his or her school work.
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.
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.
Keep a record of the conference
You may find it helpful later to have a brief record of what was said at the conference, what suggestions for improvement were made, and so forth. Make notes as soon as possible after the conference, while details are fresh.