Parent Teacher Conferences
In conducting a parent teacher conference, the following steps may be helpful to consider. Of course when the parent[s] come in for conference, they should be greeted with a smile and a handshake. Then when the parents sit down for the conference, I have found it very useful to begin by asking parent[s] to tell me what words first come to their minds when they think of their children. Listen to these words, and the feelings connected to them very carefully. Then when a teacher and parents are in agreement with the assessment, these key individual characteristics can be discussed more easily. In recent conferences that I attended, I found that the parents and I were in total agreement over 90% of the time.
Later in the conference [not at the beginning], when a teacher agrees, for instance, with the parents's initial description of their child as talkative, there will be more support forthcoming, than when the teacher begins the conference with, Your child talks too much.'
First, it is good to know and discuss the students' work and grade. These are the areas that most parents are concerned with. Next, they are concerned with behavior. When behavior is discussed after other issues, a clearer communication can result. When behavior issues are discussed first, other issues may become clouded with emotions held by all concerned. Then the student's work and grade may not as be as clearly perceived as they might have been.
When parents know the things that are important to them, they don't feel a need to know all the course -specifics- such as a detailed description of course content grading procedures, etc. Therefore, much time can be saved to discuss precise individual student situations instead of generic ones. I have found that parents are satisfied when they know several things. They want to know the overall philosophy for teaching the class. For instance: Why are students taking so many notes; why are they reading so much? Why do they have essay tests, multiple choice tests, group activities, writing samples, etc. [whatever may describe the specific class]. Parents also want to know if their child is happy, learning, and progressing, or if not, whether positive, perceivable steps are being taken in this direction. When they know these things, they are usually happy. Note, giving course grades, progress reports, etc. can assist in conveying these important points but may not do so just by themselves.
If there is some obstacle to achieving these goals, parents need to know that the teacher is willing to help. Then at that point in the conference, they are ready to hear that more of these goals could be attained if their child were a little less, talkative, social,' etc. all the words which they first used to describe their child, and which the teacher uses in tactful, helpful support. [If discipline issues become paramount in a discussion, it may be good to have a grade book record. ]
See the Strategies for Classroom Discipline page for help on this topic and other discipline strategies.
After behavior obstacles are discussed and a plan is made to overcome them, then if there is time, the teacher may want to discuss extra credit projects, or at least the availability of them.
*If extra credit or some other issue is more important than discipline, discuss that. See Extra Credit Work for extra credit ideas and the rationale for giving it.
Before the conference ends, ask the parents if there is some other way that you can help their student. Spend some time in discussing this area. Listen carefully and when appropriate, take clear notes. Parents can give intelligent, accurate, pertinent advice concerning their children in most areas that a teacher may be concerned with such as: discipline, general class behavior, motivation methods, and learning abilities. They can also reinforce the teacher's actions in these areas, especially when they plan strategies together. Finally, ask the parents to contact you if there is some change in the student's actions or feelings that show a negative downturn so that you may act upon these concerns. Teachers may be able to give a student valuable help, but whatever the success of the effort, teachers will most certainly be helping themselves, if they are the first to know that a student in their class needs help, and they take responsive steps to give that help.
Parent conferences may be looked upon by some teachers as more trouble than they are worth. Teachers may also feel that they only see those parents that they don't need to see. If one is considering parent/teacher conferences only from the viewpoint of discipline or good' grades, perhaps these estimations are true.
However parent teacher conferences can be a positive educational experience for all involved. Besides helping the students learn more course content and better study skills, parent conferences can be good public relations events for the school and the individual teachers. It is obvious that a school which holds parents conferences appears to desire to foster communications between home and school and therefore the community will often have a more favorable attitude toward such schools.
A teacher can also benefit from conferences. When parents complain about a teacher being inaccessible or unhelpful, they may be answered by other parents who attended the conferences and reply, "when I went to the parent teacher conferences, I found this teacher quite helpful and supportive." Therefore, even if a teacher sees parents that he doesn't 'need' to see, positive results may follow.
Further, if one looks at teaching as more than simply delivering subject matter, the visits of parents that don't need' to be seen can be beneficial from another viewpoint. When teaching is also viewed as a way to develop students' skills, then it becomes apparent that even the best students may benefit from added help. Then parents become a valuable resource for specific methods to help individual students. From parents, teachers can learn students interests and needs, their goals and problems, and then, as time allows, they can design individual activities to help even the good' students.
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