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Last night we had our school’s parent teacher conference.  It was by far the best turnout I have seen in 5 years.  As student teachers, you may be facing an upcoming parent teacher conference or a school open house.  There are some easy ways to handling this.

  1. Communicate early.  Before the conference communicate with parents/guardians.  The parent teacher conference should not be a place of surprises.  I have seen parents/guardians explode when hearing their son or daughter is failing or misbehaving.  Many times the parents anger flows to the student, but, a few times, I have seen the teacher take the blunt of it.  Put yourself in a better position by letting the parent know what’s going on, allowing the conference to be more of a “follow-up” rather than an “announcement” of the students’ progress.  See teachercrispy’s  post on Positive Parent Contact.
  2. Be prepared.  Equip yourself with your gradebook, attendance sheets, and sign-in sheets (to capture parent’s phone and email) for the conference.  If possible bring sample student work and/or rubrics.  This can be a great talking point and gives the parent insight into your teaching and expectations.
  3. Start positive.  Many parents may be a little anxious when meeting their child’s teachers and/or defensive.  A great way to defuse this is by greeting them with a smile and a handshake.  Then give an authentic compliment about their child (don’t lie).  Get the parent excited about what the students are learning in the classroom.  Eventually, then talk about their child’s progress, giving some concrete details or examples illustrating what you mean.
  4. Focus on solutions.  If there are areas for the student to improve in, i.e. classroom behavior, testing, turning in assignments, then be ready to propose possible solutions to tackle these.  The solutions may range from moving a student to creating a block of study time at school or at home to giving additional opportunities to making up work.  If you can’t come up with something on the spot, then ask the student for possible ways to improve.  Many times the students knows exactly what they need to do.  In the end, everybody leaves with a plan and some hope for a turnaround.
  5. Follow-up immediately.  Avoid filing those sign-in sheets, never to look at them again.  Rather, use this as an excellent opportunity to build rapport with the parents.  Send them a quick thank you via email for attending the conference or open house and invite them to contact you if they have any further questions or concerns.

Tonight is when we welcome the community to see our school and visit with teachers.  Every year I have mixed feelings.  While I enjoy meeting parents, it makes for a really long day (15 hours to be exact).  I figure this goes with the territory, so there is really no point to complaining.  You just have to make the best of it.

For new teachers and student teachers this will be a new experience.  I remember my first year, and I was definitely nervous.  To reduce the stress surrounding a school open house, here are some tips:

  • Prepare a brief outline of what you are going to say.  Talk about your curriculum, instruction, technology, goals, expectations, and your desire to develop 2-way communication with students’ families
  • Copy off some course documents, e.g. syllabus, course description, etc., for handouts
  • Provide a sign-in sheet, asking student families for their phone numbers and email addresses.  This will come in handy later
  • Be yourself.  Don’t be stiff.  Relax and engage the families in conversation.
  • Drink (water) throughout the event.  You don’t want to get dry mouth while speaking to parents.  It happened to me once, and, wow, I accidently spat on several parents that night.

An important first step in the beginning of the year is to establish family contact.  Preferably it is in person or via phone call.  However, if you simply don’t have the time to try and make contact with every student’s family, then try sending home a family / welcome letter.  

To make your communication more effective, go beyond one-way communication, by requesting the student’s family to share additional information about his/her child.  Try adding these questions to your parent / family welcome letter, ask the family to answer them, and return it with the student:

  • How would you describe your child?
  • What are your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your goals for your child this year?
  • What commitments does your child have outside of school?
  • What is your contact information?

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