Whether you’re an NQT or you have years of teaching experience, meeting with parents at a parent-teacher conference can be intimidating. The pressure of sitting down one-on-one with parents, especially if there are difficult or sensitive issues to discuss or rumours of “difficult parents”, makes the experience seem all the more worrisome. However, with the right attitude and preparation, parent-teacher meetings can be a useful tool for you to improve your pedagogy.
It’s important to remember that classroom teaching is not the only activity that teachers are responsible for, and that in order to fulfill the expectations of the Teachers’ Standards you must also “communicate effectively with parents with regard to pupils’ achievements and wellbeing”. Simply put, meeting with the parents of your pupils is a part of your job.
Many parents work full-time jobs, and will have to make arrangements to attend parent-teacher meetings, so you should give them notice as early as possible. When you give notice, let the parents know how long the meeting will be – 15 minutes is usually sufficient – and keep to this timeframe. (You can always arrange a second meeting if more needs to be discussed.)
Most schools will allow for meetings to be conducted over several days, at different times, and will give parents the option to state their preference. This is especially important if the parents have multiple children at your school, as they will need to orchestrate the meetings so that they can attend both.
Rather than relying on your memory for progress of every pupil you teach, or using only grades to measure their performance, it is a good idea to prepare several different materials ahead of time to provide a comprehensive overview of each pupil. Consider creating a folder for each pupil, with each containing a written piece of work, a maths workpiece, and one or two positive anecdotal stories, as well as the necessary grades.
Giving a positive anecdote at the beginning or end of the meeting helps to offset any delicate topics or below-expected grades you will need to discuss with the parents.
The parent-teacher meetings aren’t just an opportunity for you to report on the progress of your pupil, but also for the parents to air any concerns they have about their child’s progress at school. Some teachers gather feedback and questions from the parents ahead of time, so you can be sure you’re prepared to answer any questions they have.
When you are preparing your meeting materials, bare in mind that you should leave time for the parents to ask questions.
There’s no use asking the parents questions if they leave the meeting feeling that they weren’t heard. The best way to alleviate parents’ worries about their children is to make sure they feel listened to. Find out the parents’ aim for the meeting, as well as discussing your own.
Once you have found out what their concerns are, make a plan for following up on the pupil’s progress in problem areas, if there are any. Following up can be as simple as an email at half term with an update, or a quick phone call, and will have the benefit of including the child’s family in their education.