I’m a first year teacher, and I’m nervous about holding parent-teacher conferences this fall. What information should I share with parents? How often should I meet with parents? How long should a conference last? Any tips you can provide are most appreciated.
Cindy Hamilton, Dallas, TX
One of the keys to highly successful, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs is a positive relationship between the program and the parents. Even if parents talk to their child’s teacher often, a formal conference provides some quality time to discuss the child’s progress and any other needs.
Planning Parent-Teacher Conferences
- Determine how many and how often parent-teacher conferences will be provided throughout the year. Many programs conduct two to three conferences a year – one within a month or two of the child’s enrollment or start of the school year, one shortly after the start of the new calendar year, and another in spring before the end of the school year.
- Provide flexible conferencing hours. Many parents work and will need to meet with you before or after their normal work hours. If for some reason a parent cannot meet during any of the offered times, speak with the parent(s) as they drop off/pick up their child to set up a time that works for them. If all else fails, schedule a conference over the phone.
- Each conference should run 15-20 minutes. Post your conference schedule in a central location. Seeing the schedule will be a reminder to parents that they have 15 minutes to meet with you. Schedule the meetings, so that you have five-minute breaks between conferences in case one runs over the time limit.
- Be prepared. Think about and write down the positive things that you will say about each child along with the areas that you feel need some improvement or growth. Serious issues should not wait until a parent-teacher conference; they should be addressed on an ongoing basis.
- The type of material to be shared with the parents will be based on the program philosophy and what, if any, assessment tools are utilized. Parents appreciate having concrete examples, so consider providing samples of artwork, writing, and so on. Other topics to discuss include who the child likes to play with and what his favorite center or activity is in the classroom. At the beginning of the school year, discussing the daily schedule and goals for the upcoming months are also very helpful.
Conducting the Parent-Teacher Conference
- Conference with parents in a private place away from classroom disruptions.
- Smile as the parents enter the room – they will feel more at ease and free to talk with you. Try to sit at the same eye level as the parents. Sitting behind a desk or in an adult-sized chair while parents sit in child-sized chairs in front of you makes the conference feel like a confrontation rather than an opportunity to discuss their child’s education.
- Know both parents or guardians by their first and last names.
- Start with good things you can say about the child. If you have a concern, you owe it to the parents to give them that information, but surround the negatives with positives. So often it is not what is said, but how it is said that can be offensive, so choose your words carefully.
- Don’t do all the talking. Give parents time to express concerns and ask questions.
- Avoid using such words as “immature” or “emotional problems”. These words can be easily misinterpreted by parents and can damage the relationship you’ve built with them. Words such as “very active” and “temperamental” may be a better choice.
- End the conference on a positive note. Thank the parents for coming, tell them you appreciate their interest, and remind them that you will help in any way you can.
- Be certain to follow through on any concerns or information requested in a timely manner to the parents.
Angie Dorrell, M.A. is director of education for La Petite Academy, one of the nation’s largest providers of early childhood education programs. She is a current NAEYC validator and former commissioner.
Jenne Buffington is the kindergarten and preschool education specialist for La Petite Academy. She is also a validator for NAEYC.