Top Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Meetings
Parent-teacher interviews are a way to connect with, build and maintain respectful, collaborative relationships with the parents/carers of your students. Parents/carers play a vital role in the success of their child’s education, at an academic, behavioural, and wellbeing level, so it’s important that teachers reach out regularly and engage in productive and purposeful meetings. After many years, I’ve put together my top tips for successful parent-teacher meetings.
If you are a beginning teacher, parent-teacher interviews may be a new experience for you. You may be anxious about that first time you touch base with a parent – just know, though, that even the most seasoned teachers still get nervous. Parent-Teacher meetings can provide teachers and parents with an opportunity to share the child’s progress, discuss student achievement and learning behaviour. It can also provide an opportunity to establish goals for improved learning and achievement in the future. Parent-teacher meetings also give you, the class teacher, a chance to understand more about the students who are sitting in front of you every day. You may learn about issues at home that are affecting their learning. You may learn about something that they’re really interested in that will help engage them in the learning.
So to help you out, here are my top tips for successful parent-teacher meetings:
From the moment you start working with a class, start collecting evidence. This might be work samples from their books, pre-and post-assessments, anecdotal notes, and observations. Then create a file system that allows you to quickly and easily access this information. I have a manilla folder for each student that holds all this information. Then I have a parent-teacher communication logbook in which I record any meetings held, be it via phone, zoom, or face-to-face. Having a communication logbook not only allows you to keep notes about what is discussed and what needs to happen post-meeting. It is also a legal document that may be used if disputes ever arise. It’s good practice to get into the habit of recording all communication with parents/carers.
For formal interviews, always start the meeting off by introducing yourself, and thanking them for taking the time to come in or meet via phone/zoom. Ask them if they have any concerns or questions they’d like to open with. Then begin with some positive points about the student. These may be areas of strength, their attitude in school, the fact that they’re an inclusive member of class, polite, have a good sense of humor, etc. Then discuss areas of growth and concern with the parents. You may share what you’ve been seeing, and what you have put into place to help their child improve.
While some meetings aren’t constrained by time, formal parent-teacher meetings are usually only 10-15minutes. You’ll need to use your time wisely. Parent-Teaching Meeting sheets can ensure your meeting covers both the student’s academic performance and the student’s responsible learning and behaviour. Sometimes a parent may bring up stories or want to compare their child to another. Don’t fall into the trap of talking about someone else’s child. Acknowledge the parent’s concerns, and assure them you’ll follow up on these concerns. Then politely redirect the conversation to focus on their child and what is being done to support and guide them.
Some parents have more than one student in the school, multiple jobs, or may have difficulty traveling, so they need teachers to be flexible when scheduling conferences. In these cases, teachers may need to meet with parents early in the morning, later in the afternoon, or during recess breaks. Meeting via Skype or FaceTime is an option for parents who simply cannot make it to school.
Arrange for a translator:
Part of being prepared is knowing that sometimes you may need a translator. For some parents who don’t speak English, a translator may be required. Ideally, this shouldn’t be the student — it needs to be someone that is impartial and will communicate between both parties effectively and respectfully.
If you’re working with a translator, find a way to connect with the parent or parents despite the language barrier. Just because they can’t speak the same language or can’t speak it fluently, does not mean they aren’t incredibly intelligent and genuinely concerned about their child. Try learning a few phrases in their native language to show you’re trying to connect; even “Hello,” “How are you?” and “Thank you” can go a long way.
Remember that parents are a child’s first and most consistent teacher. It is important to build a partnership with them. This is where you can collaborate to meet the needs of the individual student and support them through their schooling. It is also important to not catch a parent by surprise. If a child is struggling in one subject, or struggling socially, reach out and discuss these concerns with parents. Once this initial contact has been made, reach out regularly to update parents and discuss what is working. It is also an opportunity to see if there is a consistent approach between home and school that can help support the child further.
Regularly meet with Indigenous Students and their Families:
It is recommended that all Aboriginal students have a PLP (Personalised Learning Plan). This should be tailored to the student and be regularly reviewed and updated. These need to be developed in a consultation process between the student, parents/carers and teachers, to identify, organise and apply personal approaches to learning and engagement. Meetings should occur once a term with Aboriginal students and their parents/carers. Students should be actively engaged in meaningful planning and decision-making in education.
PLP conversations are of great importance as they identify and strengthen shared understandings of goals, expectations, and responsibilities. These conversations need to be respectful and genuine.
Avoid Education Jargon:
Not everyone is familiar with IEPs, diagnostic and summative assessments, PBL, or STEAM. Don’t overwhelm parents with education lingo. Speak in plain terms, explain what you mean, and make sure everyone is clear about the path forward.
Sometimes you will need to have difficult conversations with parents. And sometimes there are difficult parents you need to make contact with. In these instances, seek support from your leaders. They can take notes for you, and intervene where required. In these instances, it’s very important to have evidence to support your concerns. If it is an academic concern, provide parents with both formative and summative assessment samples. If it is behavioural or social concerns, provide observation data taken by both teachers and students. Always take time to debrief with your support person as well. It is just as important to look after your wellbeing as it is for the child and parents.
Focus on the Future:
Students need to have a say in their future, and this can be done from a young age. Student self-evaluation forms are a great tool to get students to complete before formal meetings, at the beginning and end of the year. They can then be used in parent-teacher meetings to show parents what their goals are, and what students feel are their strengths and areas of growth. This can be used in concluding your meeting, to co-create clear learning and behavioural goals to guide the next steps in student learning and achievement. Always provide possible solutions to a problem by offering ways the school can help, as well as ways parents can support their child at home. If you are unsure of what to do, it is okay to tell the parent you will get back to them with the best course of action.
Always remember that parents are a child’s biggest advocate. If you need to approach sensitive issues, be considerate with your language and tone. Sometimes, it may take several meetings to build rapport, in order to take the conversation where you need it to go. Make a list of follow-up actions both you and the parents have agreed to make, and organise a time to meet again in the future.
I hope you have found these tips useful and helpful as you plan to conduct your parent-teacher meetings.
If you’re looking for more support, check out the Parent-Teacher Meeting sheets, and Student Evaluation Forms, both in my Free Resource Library. You can also grab the Beginning Teacher Binder, which has also the templates you need to organise your planning documents and ensure you’re meeting compliance.