I’ve been teaching for a few years and I still get nervous for parent-teacher conferences. Do you have any advice on how I can calm my nerves and make a great impression on my students’ parents?
Dear Nervous in Illinois,
The fact that you are asking these questions shows me that you are a great educator. Parent-Teacher Conference day is one of the most nerve-wracking days of the school year. Many times you only have 5-10 minutes to communicate so many important messages. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that may help you hold successful meetings and make a great impression.
7 Simple Parent-Teacher Conference Tips
1) Be prepared. Think of each conference as a mini-interview. Frankly, you are making an impression on parents with everything you do in that short time. One of the best ways to make a solid impression is by being prepared. Make a notecard for each student in your class and write specific notes or an anecdote about each one. Before each parent enters the room, read over the notecard and be ready with specifics about their child. When your nerves kick-in, this will prevent you from saying generic things like, “I love your daughter, she is such a great kid.” Principal Chris Rose echoed this belief with Education World: "Parents will impressed if you have a good grasp of what you are teaching and a lot of specific information about their child."
2) Don’t hide behind the good stuff. Let’s say you have 10 minutes in a conference. Avoid spending 8 minutes talking about the positives and then slip in your concerns in the last two minutes. “Leave enough time for hard topics,” explains Shannan Younger Ball, a parent of 10-year-old Megan. “Give specific examples of how I can help her. For instance, strategies for reading or a website we can explore at home. I appreciate that the teacher trusts me as parent and by giving specific strategies, I feel like I am a partner in my child’s education.” Be brave enough to bring up the hard topics so that parents have enough time to ask questions and leave the conference with a plan for improvement.
3) Smile. A smile and warm handshake is a simple parent-teacher conference tip that can go a long way. Many times when people get nervous, they can come off as being cold. When a parent is speaking and you are listening, smile and make eye contact. Smile when they enter the room and tell them how glad you are to see them. Inviting parents into your classroom is like inviting someone into your home—make sure they feel welcome.
4) Let them know you like their child. Small statements such as “I agree, Jacob is a perfectionist, but I absolutely love the leadership he brings to our classroom” are important to include in the conversation. Parents get worried when they feel like the teacher doesn’t like their child.
5) Social skills matter. A child’s social development matters just as much (if not more) to a parent. You hold the insight into the child’s social and behavioral world. "This type of feedback is important because besides the parents, the teacher is the other adult that has the most exposure to my child. The teacher gets to see them in the world interacting with other kids," states Alec Rubenstein, a parent of two children. Parents are curious how their child behaves when they are not around. Don’t forget to give observations into how they are developing as an all-around person.
6) It is a competition. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it's the truth. Parents want to know how their child is doing compared to their peers. It is human nature. Be prepared for these questions by having data (such as national percentile rankings, reading levels, etc.) so that if a parent asks, you can give unbiased, data-driven answers.
7) Bring evidence to the table. While interviewing parents about school conferences, I frequently heard the same thing over and over again: “I don't want to just hear that my child is a pleasure to have in class. Though hearing it is nice, I want to know more. The best conferences I have been to are the ones where the teachers have ideas to help my kids be their very best, regardless of their learning style,” says Kim Hetzel, parent of four children in 4th—8th grade. The parent-teacher conference night used to be about painting a picture of a student for the parent. In today’s world, it is much more about writing a thesis paper. Think about the main points you want to get across in each meeting and begin gathering evidence to back up each statement. Once evidence is gathered, think of how you can partner with each parent to support the child’s growth. It can be overwhelming to do this for every child in your classroom, but the prep work will pay off in the long run.