Creating Positive Relationships: Correcting Parent-Teacher Conference Missteps
Parent-teacher conferences should be a time for teachers to clearly demonstrate that they are on the same team with the parents and child. Furthermore, the goal of any meeting with a parent and child should be for that child to be more comfortable and excited to come to school the next day. Unfortunately, our actions and words do not always support this.
Here are a few missteps teachers can make during parent-teacher conference and ways they can avoid them, while also creating stronger relationships:
Leading with Paper Not People: Teachers often lead conferences with data, even walking a parent through a data sheet full of scores and benchmarks. While well intentioned, this first move sends the message the meeting is about the scores and not the child. Instead, a better first move would be to ask the parent questions about the child. Questions like, “What are their interests outside of school?,” “Do they have chores or otherwise help out around the house?,” or “What frustrates or motivates them the most?” not only help to build positive relationships and show that the meeting is about the child, they also lower the anxiety level of parents who may not have had the best prior experiences with conferences or in school in general.
Labeling Academic Needs: In an attempt at being honest with parents, teachers sometimes use data to explain that a child is “low” or “behind” in any given area. Understanding there are many factors that can impede a parent’s ability to drastically improve their child’s reading skills in the home, the teacher has unwittingly divided the team into two: the “low” team and the teacher that labeled them. Just imagine how excited that child will be to get back to school Monday knowing they are behind! Fortunately, teachers can maintain the sense of a unified team and maintain the positive relationships they have built by sending the same message in a different way. Instead, teachers can say, “I know reading is not easy for her but I admire the focus and determination she has when she reads. With that kind of work ethic she will surely continue to grow as a reader.” I can almost guarantee that child will come back Monday excited and show focus and determination in working on a skill that is difficult and frustrating for them.
Labeling Behavior: One of the most important things for any parent is how their child behaves at school because it is the most direct reflection of them as a parent. Therefore, a child’s behavior can also bring the most repercussions at home. It is difficult to punish a child for struggling with a math topic, but fairly simple to apply consequences for disrespect or lack of effort. This is not to mean that teachers should condone inappropriate behaviors or avoid talking to parents about them, but it does mean we need to think about how we communicate. Again, labelinga child as a “talker” or “lazy,” only serves to weaken the relationship between the child and teacher. How could it not? The teacher just ratted them out in front of their parent! Instead, teachers can say something such as, “He has been really working on self-control and I am impressed by his ability to refocus when I redirect him. Even though this is not easy for him, I have no doubt he will continue to grow in this respect.” Surely, the student will be more inclined to continue the behavior you praised them for and both parent and will child leave with a positive feeling about school.
Assigning Tasks, Rather Than Offering Support: Too often, teachers tell parents where their child is in any given subject and then tell the parent what they need to do at home to support their child. While we are quick to pass out flashcards and word lists in hopes they will be used at home, we would do better to acknowledge the effort the parent is putting forth and then offer our support. Picture this conversation and how it might empower a parent, “I know you are doing everything you can to help your daughter be successful in school. I really appreciate the support you give her and would love to help you in any way I can. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with her reading or math skills at home. ” After hearing that, I am almost positive the parent might be a little more inclined to try a few additional activities at home.
Not Ending with Gratitude: Nothing warms a teacher’s heart and redoubles their resolve like a parent thanking them for all they do for their child. If our goal for parent-teacher conferences is to strengthen our relationships withp arents and children we should do the same. Just imagine the feeling the parent and child would leave with if teachers concluded the conference by stating, “Thank you for sharing your child with me. It is an honor to work with them.” We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by saying it.
As teachers, we must keep in mind that parent-teacher conferences are a time to discuss the most treasured things these parents have--their children. Furthermore, we need to remember parents are fighting through challenges big and small every day in order to do what is best for their children, so we should be validating their efforts instead of undermining them. When a parent walks down the hall after a conference with an arm around their child and is able to say, “I’m so proud of you,” we have all won.