The first few months of school pass by so quickly. Before you know it, parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner. It’s easy to let the conference season catch us by surprise, but did you know that parent-teacher conferences are one of the best ways to boost parent engagement?
Check out our guide for encouraging parental involvement in your school before, during, and after parent-teacher conferences. If you’re a parent preparing for the conference season, we’ve also included a list of tips to make the most out of meeting with your child’s teacher.
Encouraging Parental Involvement Before Conference Season
A parent-teacher conference gives you a chance to discuss a student’s progress in-depth with families. It’s a great opportunity to get parents involved in school and aware of their child’s academic goals. But during the first months of school leading up to conference season, you can begin setting the groundwork for positive parent-teacher relationships.
During the first month of school, send an introduction letter to parents with class guidelines and information about the upcoming year. You could also send out a list of volunteer activities and school events (such as back to school night) so parents know they’re welcome in class. The earlier you bring parents into the classroom, the more comfortable they’ll feel coming to you with questions.
Many of today’s parents prefer digital communication over written notes, so it may be best to send this letter is via email. You can then continue to send messages through text or social media groups, too. As parent-teacher conferences approach, remember to send out a letter or text to parents with dates and times as a reminder.
For Educators: How to Run a Parent-Teacher Conference
Whether this is your first or your fortieth parent-teacher conference, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of these meetings. First, take the time to ask parents about potential barriers to attending and try to make accommodations. You could, for example, do a Skype or phone call instead for families who can’t make it to the school. Studies found that removing barriers like transportation makes parents more likely to attend meetings.
It’s sometimes easy to feel like you have so much information to fit within a short meeting that you don’t know what to tell parents at parent-teacher conferences. Consider putting together a parent-teacher conference form or checklist for each student ahead of time.
Here are a few ideas for items that you could include on the document:
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Classroom behavior feedback 
- Areas for improvement
- Goal ideas for the upcoming semester 
- Specific questions for parents
That way, you’ll have a handy sheet to refer to during the meeting and a take-home summary for parents.
Begin the conference on a positive note before providing more constructive feedback on a student’s progress. Parent-teacher conferences can be intimidating for families, and starting with positives can help parents feel more receptive to any criticism. Also set a few student goals for the upcoming semester during the meeting to involve parents in the assessment process.
Finally, opportunities for miscommunication can often arise during parent-teacher conferences—especially if families of English-language learning (ELL) students will be attending these meetings. Here are a few tips to encourage positive parent-teacher communication:
- Give parents time to talk and discuss their own questions about their child’s progress.
- When teachers do all of the talking during meetings, parents can sometimes feel intimidated.
- Avoid using educational jargon, which can confuse parents who aren’t as familiar with elementary teaching terms.
- For families whose primary language isn’t English, let them know that they’re welcome to bring a translator if that would help them feel comfortable.
For Parents: Parent-Teacher Conference Questions and Tips
If you’re a parent, deciding what to say at parent-teacher conferences can feel intimidating. A little preparation beforehand, however, can help you feel confident and ready to discuss your child’s progress. Put together a list of questions you’d like to ask your child’s teacher beforehand so you have a few discussion points ready before you walk in.
Here are some examples of questions to ask at parent-teacher conferences:
- What do you see as my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How has my child progressed over the year?
- What is my child like in class?
- What can I do to help my child learn at home?
- Can I see a few examples of my child’s work in class?
While the teacher discusses your child’s progress, try to listen and keep an open mind. Constructive criticism can sometimes be hard to hear, especially when you understand your child’s unique background and challenges better than anyone. However, remember that the teacher likely has your child’s best interest in mind and work together to support your child’s learning. If it would be helpful, take a few notes during the meeting that you can reference later.
Recognize that parent-teacher conferences take a lot of planning, often outside of an educator’s regular hours. After the conference, send a thank-you note to your child’s teacher to let them know you appreciate their time. If you’d like to get more involved in school events, let them know how you’d like to help.
How to Keep Family Engagement Strong After Parent-Teacher Conferences
Once you’ve survived conference season, you’ll have done a lot to build parent engagement in your classroom. But it doesn’t have to end there. Check out these five tips for encouraging positive parent-teacher relationships throughout the year:
- After a parent-teacher conference, send a thank-you note home with the student to show their parents that you appreciated their time.
- One of the most effective ways to communicate with parents is through digital methods. Continue regularly sending class newsletters and reminders through email and text throughout the year.
- Be open with parents about any parental support needed in class. If your class is going on a field trip, for example, email a volunteer sign-up sheet.
- Form a parent-teacher committee to give families a way to make a meaningful difference in your school. If your school already has a committee, encourage parents to sign up.
- Continue holding after-school events, such as talent shows or educational fairs, designed to keep parents engaged with your school.
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