Monday, May 23, 2011

The Parent Teacher Conference: The View from the Other Side of the Table

By: John Blake, Ed.S.

It’s four o’ clock and the last bus full of screaming children is just pulling out of the school driveway when you hear the dreaded sound of the intercom. “Mr. Blake,” the static-filled voice screeches, “your parent conference is here.” 

Quickly, you rush to hide the stacks of ungraded papers and wipe the cookie cake crumbs from the table. Within seconds you assume the role of “alpha” teacher as you sit in your simulated leather desk chair (the one you found at the local Goodwill store…but, that’s another article) and invite your wary guests to plant their adult-sized bottoms in the tiniest chairs you can find.
The parents of your darling student immediately begin with their list of demands, while you counter with the reasons their child is not succeeding in class. You envision yourself blasting these two encroachers from your classroom with a tirade about the need for discipline, consistency, and a healthy dose of Ritalin.

The fruit of this awkward meeting? Nothing near what you should hope for in an effective parent-teacher conference. Meetings like this only breed contention, resentment, and do nothing to build a healthy learning community.

The parent-teacher conference should be viewed as one of your most effective tools for building a partnership with the families of your students. A well-planned and well-organized conference can leave both parties feeling like active participants in the learning process. Below are a few tips to help you plan your next conference:

·      Get Organized: There is nothing more unprofessional than to have to stop in the middle of your conference to hunt down a student’s most recent fluency report. Try gathering all of your materials the day before and putting them in a folder that will be ready to go when it is time for the big event.

·      Set the Mood: Whether you want it to or not, your classroom does represent you as a teacher. If parents walk into a disorganized jungle of a classroom, their expectations of your effectiveness as a teacher will start pretty low. We are not talking a major overhaul here, but more of an “organized chaos.” Have the children help you prepare for “guests” before dismissal time and you can even let the “star” of the conference write a letter to his/her parents to welcome them to the room.

·      Walk in their Shoes: Or rather, sit in their seats. What is the background that will frame you as you speak with them? What chairs do you have available for adults? Can you make a few adjustments that will help your guests feel more comfortable? Make every effort you can, but don’t stress if your guests have to sit in student chairs…it might give them an interesting perspective of the classroom.

·      Take Notes: If your district does not have a conference form that you are required to use, then do a quick Google search and you will find a wealth of free forms out there (at the end of this article you will find a sample of some I found online). Jotting down information, comments, and questions during the conference not only provides a record for both parties; it also shows the parents that you really are paying attention to them! Make sure you have the parents sign the form, and then give them a copy.

·      Cut the Small Talk: Yes, the weather is nice and those Tigers are having an okay season, but the purpose for this brief meeting is to discuss the progress of the child. Now, before you start typing those replies too quickly, I don’t intend that anyone act rudely or impersonally; however, it has been my experience over the years that those parents who are most likely to digress with small talk are the ones who are avoiding the more pressing issues of their child’s education. There have been many times I have had to redirect (yes, just like I do with the children…ironic, no?) our conversation back to the topic at hand.

·      Let the Star Shine: The focus of this meeting is the child, so by all means let that child have a chance to shine. If the child is present for the meeting, allow him/her to add to the discussion. Allow the child to choose samples of work to share during the conference, whether he/she will be there or not. 

·      Start on a Positive Note: Yes, the child may have set fire to the toilet in the boys’ bathroom or “borrowed” $20 out of your purse for the book fair, but find something positive to say about that child before you start in on the rest. Something to the effect of, “Billy Bob has the most wonderful penmanship, which he exhibited by changing this ‘F’ to an ‘A’ on his last report card.” You get the idea.

·      Leave the Door Open: Well, I mean this metaphorically and literally. Prop your classroom door open so there are always “witnesses” around. This will help to insure that the conversation stays pleasant and on topic. In the metaphorical sense, let the parents know that your door is always open to them and that you do not mind meeting with them at any point in the future they feel is necessary.

Planning a productive meeting with the parents of one of your students is not rocket science, but taking the time to do it right can lead to an “out of this world” experience!
I would love to hear some of your suggestions for and experiences with productive parent-teacher conferences. Please share your thoughts by making a comment below.

Parent-Teacher Conference forms:


  1. I really liked this article and the honesty that went into it.

  2. Thanks, Rosshalde! I enjoyed writing it and definitely had plenty of my own PT experiences to add to it.

  3. Thanks for the information!

  4. Great article!!!



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