Guest Post by Kathern Rivas
Typically teacher-parent conferences are not called into session strictly because it's "routine." Usually there is a problem, either the student is acting out and causing disruption in class or is having a poor performance (sometime a combination of the two). While teacher-parent conferences can be scary for the student, it can be equally as scary for teachers—especially new teachers that don’t have much experience engaging with parents. If not handled in the right manner, a parent can end up blaming you, the teacher, for their child's low grades instead of considering a magnitude of different factors. That said, to help ensure that your first and last teacher-parent conference goes smoothly, consider some of these tips listed below.
Consider Having the Student Present. Traditionally most teachers like to make teacher-parent conferences exclusively for the teacher and parents; however it might be a better idea to include the principle person who is up for discussion—the student. This way, the student is aware of what exactly is going on and is able to defend him or herself if the opportunity arises. This also makes it harder for the student to put the blame entirely on you (a frequent go-to defensive mechanism) when parents confront their children about the matters discussed in the conference at home. The student will be more obligated to speak truthfully with you and his or her parents in the same room.
Give Video Chatting/ Phone Call an Option. Most teacher-parent conferences are conducted in person, but sometimes parents are extremely busy with work and cannot attend (or have a very odd schedule); others have transportation difficulties and cannot drive to the school. If this is the case and parents try to avoid/ can't attend a teacher-parent conference, offer to do it online— with modern technological advancements like Skype and other video-chatting software, these conferences don't need to be done in person anymore. If parents don’t have internet, the phone can suffice too.
Lead with Positive Attributes. Lastly, parents already know when a teacher-parent conference is requested that something isn't quite right, but don't just immediately spurt out a long list of their child's weakness —some parents will immediately get on the defense and will stop listening to what you have to say. Highlight some positive attributes and discuss the student's strengthens instead before diving into the weaknesses. Once you do start talking about the weaknesses however you want to make sure that you have tons of material that will support your claims (such as graded tests and specific situations) that will help the parents understand what's going on. This is the perfect opportunity to investigate whether something may be occurring at home that may reflect why the student is doing poorly, but try not to sound accusatory. Innocently ask if the parents have any ideas or thoughts of why their child might be struggling. This is also the perfect opportunity to provide your own suggestions of steps the student needs to make in improving their efforts.