How many of you have sat through a Parent-Teacher Conference (PTC) that has been an utter disaster? I know I have been on both sides of the desk when a PTC has gone awry and actually serves to fracture or diminish relationships between the parent and teacher. Think about it – PTCs are just about the most public representation of our school system that exists and the most systematic effort to engage families in the educational experience. Therefore, PTCs are hugely important, but are not commonly treated as such.
Despite their importance, most leaders do not set expectations or provide training for the teachers on how to conduct a successful PTC. From the perspective of a former teacher, current administrator, and demanding dad I have constructed a template that if followed should make PTCs productive, relationship-enhancing events. The secret to all grate PTCs is that they are entirely dependent upon the teacher’s actions well-before the meeting ever takes place. Here is how you do it:
- Review of previous communication or lack thereof
- If the first time you are talking or communicating with a parent on an individual basis – then expect the conference to be less productive and have a heightened level of tension. Great teachers use this conference as an opportunity to talk about changes they have made or the student has made since the last parent contact. Additionally, if parent contact has been attempted and replies are scarce – this is an outstanding opportunity to confirm the preferred communication method of the parent.
- A parent should leave with a clear understanding of what their child has been learning and will be learning in the future. This does not mean you tell them about the ‘Rainforest Unit.’ This means that you talk to them about the standards, skills, and desired outcomes that drive your class. If those things are not documented and driving the class, there are much larger issues at hand than a negative conference.
- Grades mean much to parents. This is an opportunity to explain how you grade to your parents, but danger lurks if you do not sincerely believe in your grading system. Worse, is when you cannot articulate or defend current grading practices. Grading for behavior, issuing tons of extra credit, have students receiving As but performing far below standard are areas that will be exploited in these conversations. Grades must mean something and measure what they were told is important in terms of outcomes. Additionally, artifacts should be available to show parents their student’s performance compared to the expected standard that you can clearly explain. There is nothing worse than not being able to articulate what a rubric says or realizing during the conference that your rubric is not strong.
- Comparative data
- Most parents want to know where their student is in comparison to their peers so national benchmarking data is generally appreciated. A common pitfall here is the desire to simply congratulate the parents of the students doing well – that is not okay. Those students deserve to be pushed and grow as much as any other student – and you should have a plan for doing so.
- Your goals for the student for the rest of the year
- Any PTC that ends with the parent believing that the teacher is as committed to their student’s success as they are is a resounding success. In order to demonstrate that a teacher must invest time and energy in to creating desired outcomes for that student in the future –
- Student character
- Everyone wants to know about who their student is when they are not around. Students that receive discipline in class or school already may have an idea, but the for the 85% of students that do exactly what they should on a daily basis this is a time to explain that to their parents. Is the student a leader, follower, enjoys helping others, or some other type of characteristic? The parent not have any idea that their child exhibits those skills or maybe they have just never had their efforts as a parent validated. This also demonstrates to the parent that you see their child as a person beyond just a student.
- How the parent can serve as a better partner
- It should never be lost that the PTC is not intended to be the peak of parent-teacher interaction throughout the year. The purpose (of a PTC) is to better engage the family in the education of their child. This should include advice on how the parent can serve as a better partner in their child’s education. Think about it – you will never have a better chance than you do during this meeting.