Tips and Printables for Terrific and Stress Free Parent Teacher Conferences

Last week was our school’s week for Parent-Teacher Conferences!  I may be alone in this- but I love conference time!  Yes, it’s a LOT of work – especially for 30 or more kiddos as many upper elementary classrooms have- but I love meeting all of the parents and finally feeling like we are all on the same page!  Over the years I have created some Go-To forms for managing conferences, as well as some fun signs and even an activity for parents who are patiently waiting in the hallway. I’ve also compiled all my favorite tips here to help you prepare and de-stress!

7 Tips for Stress Free Parent Teacher Conferences

1. Create a Conference Folder for each student

Conference Folders create a place to keep everything organized and in order for each student’s conference.  Send folders home with parents after conferences so that they have something tangible to take away with them. I like to use durable folders with clear pockets on the front like these: (purchase here)

They are a little pricier than your average paper folder so I ask that parents send the empty folder back so that I can reuse it the following year. I love that they have a clear pocket so that I can slip a cute cover with the student’s name on it in the front. I included a cover in my conference pack.

Ideas for folder contents:

  • Completed Conference Documentation Form
  • Completed Student Self-Evaluation form
  • Samples of student work
  • Student Report Card
  • Student RTI plan (if applicable)
  • State Testing information and/or student test results
  • Educational/Classroom Website addresses and login information (if your school has a subscription to any specific websites)
  • Teacher Contact Information
  • School and/or Classroom Calendar
  • Tip Sheets for working on specific skills at home

2. Make a Great First Impression

Research has shown that within the first 15 seconds of meeting someone, they have formed an opinion about you or the meeting.  First impressions are strong, and are hard to change.  Make a memorable first impression by:

  • Dressing professionally. This is not the time for boyfriend jeans and your school spirit shirt! I like to take it up a notch and dress my very best for conference day. Pay attention to details- once I wore some dangly chandelier style earrings which swung around and made noise every time I moved my head while I was talking and they annoyed me the entire day! As a female teacher I also like to make sure my nails look nice because you’ll often be pointing things out on paper.
  • Making immediate eye contact
  • Move toward the parent when they arrive- walk toward the door and greet them by name rather than staying seated behind your conference table or desk.
  • Introduce yourself if you haven’t before and shake their hands.
  • Smile warmly!
  • Create an organized environment- Your classroom is an expression of who you are and your teaching style. What do you want it to say about you? A messy classroom could convey that you are unorganized. Plan ahead to spend the day (or an hour!) before conferences to clean your desk, and move any paper ‘piles’ (you know the ones I’m talking about) to your closet or drawers.
  • Create an inviting environment- Plug in a Scentsy or Glade with a calming fragrance, like Vanilla Lavender. Put up student artwork to brighten your walls and show parents that you care about showcasing student work. Play soft classical music in the background.

All of these little small things together will make a big difference.

3. Prepare a Conference Area

Too often, parents at conferences are sitting in child size chairs directly across from their child’s teacher.  It’s uncomfortable and can create the feeling us you against them. Instead, create an arrangement where you are sitting next to, or “kiddy-corner” to the parents.  This conveys the message that you are all working together.  Borrow some adult size chairs for conference day.

Also, be sure to have these items on hand for easy reach or referral at your conference area:

  • kleenex
  • gradebook (printed or digitally on a laptop)
  • anything related to standardized testing (testing dates, explanation of score categories, example questions, etc)
  • school and classroom calendars
  • conference schedule tracking sheet (included in the Complete Conference Pack)
  • prepared student conference folders
  • water bottle
  • mints
  • chapstick/lip product of choice

4. Show That You Care!

This might be the most important tip of all. Parents don’t care what we know, until they know that we care!  Many parents come to conferences in an emotional state- with fear or anger, depending on their child’s past experiences in school or their own personal school experiences.  Follow the steps below to show parents that you care, and help them go from an “emotional state” to a “thinking state”. {Source: Jim Fay, Love and Logic}

  • Listen with empathy- Start by asking parents “What are your thoughts?” “What does your child say about school?” or “How is your child feeling about school this year?”
  • Restate what the parent has said- Take notes on your Conference Documentation Form (included in the Complete Conference Pack), then use statements such as “It sounds like you’re saying/feeling…”
  • Check to see if parent is in ‘thinking state’ by saying: “We have a lot of options available to meet this need.  Would you like to brainstorm together…” or “I have some thoughts on this.  Would you like to hear them?”. If you don’t have immediate answers it’s also okay to write down the concern or question and let parents know that you’ll be getting back to them at a later date/time.
  • Problem Solve- Move parent from defensive position into problem-solving. Use statements such as “What have you tried?” “How did that work?” “Would you be willing to try ___ at home?”

You may even want to print this out and have it nearby for you to reference during conferences if needed. Remember though that ultimately, HOW you say something is more important than WHAT you say! Experts agree that most of what we communicate is non-verbal (body language and tone of voice vs actual spoken words). Keep this in mind if you find yourself in a moment where the words didn’t come out quite right- chances are the parent won’t remember what you said but they will remember how they perceived your feelings about their child.

5. Give Constructive Feedback

Although it’s not always easy, its important to be honest with parents about their child’s progress and behavior.  The best way to do this is to present concerns without judgments.  For example, instead of saying “Sarah is loud and noisy”, say “Sarah has difficulty working quietly.  She can improve this by __ …”. Don’t minimize a problem by saying “There is a small problem”. Be up front about the gravity of a situation.

For every statement of need that you make, (“John needs to improve in…”, “I need you to work with John at home…”), be prepared to give a specific course of action that you are taking at school, or that parents can take at home to meet this need. This leads me in to tip 6…

6. Notify Parents of Major Concerns BEFORE Conference Time

If conferences are the first time that a parent is hearing of a major behavior problem, or that their child is seriously struggling, chances are that they will be really upset (with YOU, not their child) that they weren’t notified earlier.  Conferences are not a time to ‘surprise’ parents with this kind of information.  Instead, notify parents of major concerns earlier in the year via phone or email, or send a note with the conference request letter outlining the specific concerns that will be addressed during the conference.

7. End on a Positive Note

Last but no less important – end each conference the way you began- with a positive statement that leaves parents knowing how much you care about their child’s success. I like to have this written down ahead of time on my conference documentation forms (found in the Complete Conference Pack) so there is no chance that I will forget the specific positive statement that I wanted to make about each student.

The Complete Conference Pack

All of the documentation and forms I mentioned can be found in one place! I compiled them in to the Complete Conference Pack! It can be found here in my Teacher Life shop, or here in my TPT store.

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