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Productive Parent Conferences

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

The first report cards should be right around the corner, followed by concerned parents who want to meet with you. These early parent conferences can set the tone for the rest of the year and make sure the student in question stays on the right path.

Here are some tips to make sure your parent meetings are as productive as possible:

Insist on the student not attending the meeting

Students who attend their own parent conference are very high on the list of teacher pet peeves. It’s just not as productive for the teacher, who will naturally be less candid about the student if they are listening. When setting up the meeting, insist that the student be out of the room. If it’s unavoidable (babysitters are expensive), suggest that the student spend some time on the classroom computers or reading in the corner, preferably with headphones on.

Show up

In secondary schools, parent conferences with just one teacher are becoming increasingly rare. Conferences are supposed to be attended by every teacher the student has, but if a few neglect to attend, it looks bad for the entire faculty. Although you may think you don’t have anything to say to the parents—probably because the student is successful in your class—you might have something to offer the other teachers about why the kid is having success with you. If you truly cannot attend, send the parents a quick e-mail before the conference with a brief progress report and an invitation to call you for more information.

Start positive

As the old saying goes, you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar. If they’ve been paying any attention at all, the parents already have a rough approximation about how their kid is screwing up in class and can even make a good guess on why. But some unexpected positivity at the beginning can really set a productive tone for the meeting, making it less adversarial and more constructive. Then you and the parents can work together to solve the problem effectively.

Create action items and stick to them

The only way the conference will be successful is if actionable steps are agreed upon and then followed through. Productive ideas might flow from both sides, but everyone needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to be taking good notes (probably you, because the office is going to want documentation of the conference) and then read what everyone agreed to at the end of the meeting so everyone leaves the room on the right page. If you say you’ll e-mail weekly with a report, do it. If they say they’ll sign the student’s planner every day to acknowledge receipt, ask them about it if they fall behind.