Do you dread or look forward to scheduled parent/teacher conferences and other community events throughout the school year? Whether you like them or not they are necessary and can become the catalyst to change, inspire, and even affect a child’s life more than you realize.
The easiest conferences are usually those involving students who are doing well in your classroom. The conferences you may look forward to are most likely related to the students who need the parental or guardian involvement the most, but they show little interest in the process or their child’s educational needs. It can become frustrating for you, but more so for the students who are feeling left out due to an uninvolved parent. What should you do?
First, as you know, communication is the key to reaching out to every parent. Use various methods to communicate with the parents of your students. Though it may seem like everyone has email, access to the Internet, or simply have no problem receiving text messages, there are many who do not have the resources, skills or time necessary to become tech savvy. They still rely on regular mail, phone calls, and perhaps personal contact.
Regularly, reach out to every one of your students’ parents in a manner in which they choose. If it takes a personal phone call, find the time, call them. In smaller communities, perhaps you and a colleague can visit a student’s home to meet with a parent. You may feel there is no time in the day to do it, but in the end it will save you time. When a parent is more involved in the child’s education, the child will need less “maintenance” throughout the school day.
Next, during parent/teacher conferences, Open Houses, or other school events, once again reach out to those who normally shy away from such events. Whether in a small community or big city, ask parent volunteers at the school if they would be willing to pick up parents who have difficulty accessing transportation to such an event. In many districts, the school buses could be dispatched to neighborhoods just as they are sent every morning and afternoon to transport students to and from the school. Whatever is needed to encourage and motivate parents must be done. Parents attendance at the school for special events and conferences is a win-win for all involved.
Depending on the school you teach, some of the parents of your students most likely did not have their own parents involved in their education, so they will repeat that cycle. Many do not know how to get involved regardless of the letters, flyers, or invitations you send home. If all else fails, a personal visit by a caring and compassionate teacher may be just what the parent needs. They need to see parental involvement is not difficult, and it can improve their child’s attendance, behavior, and achievement. Every parent has something to offer to their child’s school. Interested parents equal interested children.
Third, on the day parents arrive to the school for an event or parent/teacher conference, is your classroom parent-friendly? Is your attitude, demeanor, actions, and words a welcoming presence for your visitors? Are you the same person with the parents as you are with their son or daughter? The last thing you want to do is “put on a face” for the parents that is different than the one you wear in front of your students. Do not forget, the kids in your class know you just as much as you know them, and they do talk about you with their parents.
Simply showing a different side to a parent can cause conflict at home. A parent may wonder and ask a child: “Son, Mrs. Smith is nice. Why do you say she’s mean?” That comment alone, and other similar conflicting comments, can cause a rift between parent and child. If you are a mean and uncaring teacher during the day, but show a friendly side to parents who report this to their child, it will be nearly impossible to earn respect from that student who now views you as a fake as well. The bottom line: Be as real with the parents as you are with your students. Be yourself.
Put the Child First
Finally, when personally meeting one-on-one with parents in the classroom, set up a table to have the conference where all of you are sitting around it. You are equals and hopefully have an equal interest in the well-being of the child. The conference is not about who is in charge or in control. It is about effectively addressing and meeting the needs of the child. Many parents feel bad enough knowing their child may not be doing as well as they thought, so try not to make it seem like they are to blame. In the end, the parent should want to come into your classroom and be relaxed enough to share as much as possible with you about their son or daughter.
Remember this as well: No matter how well you think you know a student, and whether you like it or not, 99.9% of the time a parent knows him or her better than you do. Definitely, use the parent/teacher conference to educate parents about their child and what they can do for him or her, but also use the conference to further learn what more you can do to help that child. Lastly, be as positive as possible, but when giving the bad news do not make it seem hopeless. A parent needs to see their child has a chance, but they also need to see a teacher who sincerely cares.
For more great tips to holding parent teacher conferences we found this resource to be very helpful.