8 Tips to Survive Parent Conferences

Parents… I am sure many of you have heard horror stories about parents doing crazy things, making demands, acting beyond inappropriate.  Let’s be honest with ourselves, it does happen.  Some parents are in fact completely nuts.   But, so are some teachers (myself included in that one!)  Your job is to run the conference and sell a parent the child you have in school every day.  Not always the golden child or demon child they claim to have at home.  Here are some tips to get out of the wrestling match with all your limbs attached.

1. Be prepared for each conference- This sounds dumb, but it is huge.  Have notes if it helps, have more documentation for what you need to say than you will likely use, and have it within arms reach.

2. Own the room- This is your classroom, your domain, and YOU are the expert.  You may not feel much like an expert as a 1st year teacher, but most parents do not have a Degree in Education.  Most parents have not spent as much time in a classroom as you have.  Remember that, because some parents will try to intimidate you, especially if you are new.  I am not saying you beat them down, just exude confidence in what you say.  Act like you are legit and most parents will respect that.

3. Don’t forget what it must be like on their side of the table.  If you are having a conference with a parent who has a struggling or behavior issue child, it is HARD to sit there and hear about all the crap you already know about your child.  Most parents love their children even more than you.  So when you tell them there is something wrong, it hurts, they get defensive, and you start to hit a standoff…

3.a. This conversation is easier with these parents if there is an open communication line between you and parents throughout the year.  This way, when the parents come in, there are no surprises.  Also, make sure to spend time in strong qualities, even if there are only a few.  If you cannot find even one thing to be positive with about a child, you shouldn’t be teaching!

4. Don’t say too much!  I have a severe case of verbal diarrhea.  I just cannot help it, I love talking to parents about their kids!  There are somethings however that you cannot say to parents.  There are other things that you just don’t need to say.  Plan out your key points and try to let the parents do more talking.

5. Bring backup- if you know you are in for an extremely difficult conference, whether because of the parent relationship or because of what you need to say during the conference, ask for help.  This is where its important to have found some allies.  I work in a very small school.  For me, I tend to get the Speech Therapist, BSI instructor, or our CST coordinator to sit in on those most difficult conferences.  1-It provides you with witnesses 2- It makes difficult parents less likely to try and intimidate a new teacher.

6. Be yourself!  Parents don’t want to see that their kids spend 7 hours a day with a heartless robot.  They want to see that their child spends their time with a passionate, dedicated, human being that cares about their child.  I am not saying that you should pour a few margaritas from the blender, flip your shoes off and relax, but don’t try to be to rigid, structured or scripted.  Speak with your head, but from your heart.

7. Take it all in stride- You are likely to hear some crazy things while you are teaching, both from students and parents.  Expect to hear some extra crazy things while you are having a conference, especially if you have heard some extra crazy things from their child before!

8. Smile and Laugh- obviously when its appropriate..”Your child cries every day because other kids pick on him and then he fails all his work HAHAHAHA”-That would likely get you punched!  In reality, smile when you greet parents, laugh at a funny story.  I always like to share a short funny story to break the ice or lighten the mood.  Sometimes you find out even more about a family from their response to a hilarious story about their child.

These tips won’t eliminate every disaster that could come up, but they sure have helped me, and other teachers I know, in the past!

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