Successful Parent Conferences

Home-school relations can make or break an educational experience. Parent-teacher conferences are one of the most visible and potentially powerful mechanisms for building good relationships. Successful conferences depend on several factors.

Debra seeks advice.

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As a new teacher, Debra looks to veteran teachers when planning a parent conference.

Debra would never stumble into an important meeting unprepared. She may be a first-year teacher, but she has an innate sense of protocol. She needs all the professional talent and charm she can muster for her upcoming conference with Mrs. Peterson—a formidable woman who worries, with good reason, about her daughter Sara’s academic progress.

When Debra enters the faculty room and starts talking with two of her more experienced colleagues, she gets more than she bargains for about the Petersons. To say they are negative is to understate the case. They don’t like Mrs. Peterson. They don’t trust her. And they don’t sugarcoat their perceptions. They pepper their comments with words and phrases such as “evidence,” “don’t fight back,” and “fire you.” She walks out considerably more concerned about the potential of this conference to make this situation better, not worse. Now, it seems like her job might even be on the line!

Are these teachers telling it like it is, or are they just venting? Debra is not sure what to think.

Concerned with how she will handle Mrs. Peterson’s notorious attitude, Debra seeks another perspective.

Debra’s colleague Tiffany has also been teaching a few years. Tiffany is known for her teaching prowess and graciousness. Debra wonders how Tiffany would prepare for a parent conference and what she thinks about parents, generally speaking. Given what little she knows, Debra cannot imagine Tiffany sees parents—even the Petersons—as the enemy.

Surprises unfold during the conference with Mrs. Peterson

As she tosses and turns the night before the conference, Debra decides that whatever happens, she will not cede control of the situation to Mrs. Peterson. True, Mrs. Peterson had requested the meeting, so technically it might be “her conference.” But Debra is still the teacher—the professional responsible for all the students, including Sara Peterson.

As soon as introductions are over, Debra takes a deep breath and states her case. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Peterson worries aloud about Sara’s falling grades. She argues the school should more readily share information about Sara’s assignments and examinations. Debra makes every attempt to address her concerns.

After her conversation in the faculty room, Debra had feared the conference would be an object lesson in bitterness and recrimination. After the conversation with Tiffany, though, she’d thought more carefully about how to prepare. Throughout the conference, she tries to remember they are all really on the same side. As a result, everyone manages to walk away with a common plan and maybe even some smiles. Debra wonders, Is this what professional success looks like?