Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part One

by Arlene Birt


“I must say I don’t really care for parent/teacher conferences.  I showed the paper to Seth and said, ‘Let’s just sign up to talk to Miss Birt,'” a mom shared with me.  Since Seth is a high-school student, this mom wouldn’t be signing up for a conference with me, but I told her I’d be glad to visit with her.  I’m sure she doesn’t enjoy the conferences because she usually hears comments about areas of difficulty for her child.

How does a teacher conduct a positive and helpful parent-teacher conference?  How can I be honest and give useful feedback?  How do I present those academic or behavioral problems in a manner that we can discuss them and think about how to help the child?  I want to support families in raising their children.  I want the parents to back me up.  What can the parents tell me that will aid in understanding their child?

How do parents feel when they come to school for a conference with the teacher?  I’ve been told that parents were eager to come and hear what I had to say.  Some parents tell me they’ve been wondering how their child was doing.  I know some parents feel intimidated by this meeting because they may be remembering their school days, or are nervous about what the teacher will share.

Here are some tips for conducting parent-teacher conferences. They are points I’ve learned from my administrators and from my years of experience.

  1. There should be no surprises. If Beth is struggling in math, her parents should already be aware of this as I have been in communication with them.  I cannot assume that they have figured it out.
  2. Listen to the parents. I would star this one as very important.  Parents need to feel heard.  There have been times when I couldn’t get my piece in because a parent talked most of the time, and that was okay.  I listened and gained insight that way.  Parents have cried in conferences, we’ve laughed, parents have shared extensively from their own lives and school experiences, and some have confided very personal things, which I do not take lightly.
  3. Parents do want to know how their child is doing. It is hard to tell them of difficulties, but I need to share that and present it in a helpful and supportive manner, not accusing or blaming the parents.
  4. I need to word my comments carefully, being honest, yet kind. Pray over the conferences – pray for wisdom, clear communication, and for understanding.
  5. I like to begin my talking with a positive comment – encouragement, something the child is doing well, a cute comment. If there are areas to work on, that would not be the first thing to say.  I like to tell something I appreciate about the child.  I will end with something positive, also.
  6. I was taught to never have a conference at my desk – that is too “teacher-y” and is intimidating to parents who feel like they are a student again. It’s not helpful to have that desk between us anyway.  We’ll sit more casually around a table.
  7. Starting with prayer has been very helpful. It’s hard to be critical of someone you’ve just prayed with, and we certainly want the Lord’s guidance.  I have also been blessed by parents who have asked to pray for me.
  8. Offer solutions. Don’t just give a problem, but present ideas of ways to help.

We are partnering with parents, and their children are precious to them.  I am honored that they have entrusted their children to me and I want to treat this as a privilege to come alongside and work with parents in educating their children.

Courtesy of Ephrata Mennonite School, this is a link to a form used at Parent-Teacher Conferences. The form has prompts for teacher feedback to parents and parent/student feedback for teachers, as well as reminders of general protocol for the conference.

Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part Two

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CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt

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