The Effective Parent-Teacher Conference

"Stop the Parent Stress!" Academic and Disciplinary Meetings

Have you ever found yourself worrying about an upcoming parent-teacher conference, or saying:

I want parents to work with me, not against me!"

You don't have to dread interaction with Mom and Dad. You can look forward to calling home any time without worrying about parent matter what news you need to deliver.

And I've got everything you need, right here, in this collection of articles!

A "Parent-Child-Teacher" Team

Parent-teacher conference

The key is getting involved up front with all of your parents well before you need to call them (or call on them) with difficult news or to help out with a situation (either positive or negative).

This is how we form strong, stress-free bonds from the first day of school that last all year long.

It's not exactly like maintaining friendships... it's more like keeping peace in your family, no matter what mix of personalities and agendas exist.

Think: Thanksgiving dinner (but it lasts all year!).

My background: Both "mom" and "teacher"

I've been on the "other side" as a parent of elementary-age children. I received my share of negative news, so I know what teacher communication (i.e. "judgment!") feels like.

There's no guilt like the guilt of a mother whose child-raising skills are being questioned!

And I've been on the teacher side, with trepidation about delivering difficult news to adults who were strangers. I've sat through hundreds of parent-teacher conferences as a recipient and as a leader.

NOTE: I've got insights on both teacher-led and student-led academic conferences.

With a few, easy-to-implement best practices for parent relationship building, so you can put aside any fears about talking to them and form those close bonds that alleviate stress from your day.

Obtaining support and reinforcement at home

When you don't have to worry about Mom and Dad's reactions, your behavior management moves forward without stalling. But you have to know...

  • How to compliment students when talking to their parents
  • How to show that you give their child every chance to succeed
  • How to call parents about behavior so they remain on your team

Real-world examples you can hear

Hear an audio example of a bad phone call so you don't antagonize parents when you don't mean to. Plus, see and hear examples of great phone discussions about difficult topics.

Hear how to get your message across without raising emotional barriers.

Here's just one sample from this section:

Click to

The Effective Parent-Teacher Conference

Here's a few of the topics I cover in this section:

  • How giving parents "homework" can help manage behavior issues and build support at home
  • How to run a face-to-face meeting...and what you can expect when delivering difficult news in person
  • How to use the "velvet hammer" and focused positive feedback to keep your credibility as a fair child advocate

Plus even more "been there, done that" tips:

  • How to create a classroom newsletter that actually gets read by parents
  • How make e-mails and notes home effective so you get the intended effect
  • When to have kids make the call home and how to manage it

Let's get down to business...

...building strong relationships with the greatest influences in our students' lives!

Tough Cases: Involving Reluctant Parents

Parent-teacher communication and the involvement of mom and dad is a critical part of any classroom discipline plan, as outlined on the pages about investigating causes and escalation/involving parents ...whether they want to be involved or not. This page is about those parents who fall into the "not" category, or at least fall into the "I'd rather not" one. Unfortunately, many of the tough case kids come with parents in this category.

I do understand the situation: They are in the vicious cycle of poor child behavior...leads to...parent doesn't know what to do...leads to...poorer child behavior...leads to...parent checks out.

Consider the numbers

You spend, at most, 20 or so hours per week in the classroom with a particular child (after deducting recess, music, etc.) This same child spends the remaining 148 hours somewhere else, doing something else with someone else.

Some of those other influences are neutral, but in a difficult family situation, many are decidedly not neutral. It is very easy to see how your classroom discipline plan at school can be undone at home.

What you need at home is an influence that, at a minimum, does not undo the progress made at school, which is where parent-teacher relationships come in.

[caption id="attachment_2025" align="aligncenter" width="350"]The number-one influence in a child's life The number-one influence in a child's life[/caption]

Now, let's get a few things straight. I am not advocating that government (in the form of school systems) take over the raising of children. I'm not even advocating that the school always knows what is best for kids. And if you are the type of parent who is reading this website, or, for that matter, any website on school improvement or even being a better parent, then I am decidedly not referring to you.

But I'm also a realist; the parents of the kids on my case study page were not living up to even a small portion of what society expects from those who decide to have children. And they needed to step up and be part of the solution, which might include:

  • Learning rudimentary parenting skills
  • Consistently getting their child to school
  • Seeking medical care (often state-provided for free) to address vision, hearing or other issues
  • Encouraging homework completion
  • Giving prescribed medicine on the prescribed schedule (instead of, in some instances, taking it themselves)
  • Placing value on education
  • ...and a number of other very basic parental obligations

When dealing with kids who are tough classroom behavior management cases, we start by minimizing any roadblocks to parental involvement. We build parent-teacher relationships, practicing all the elements outlined on the escalation/involving parents page

But with tough cases and parents who are really not engaging, sometimes you have to step it up notch and move to the next phase.

Inconveniencing parents to gain their involvement

The classic case where this comes into play is the child who constantly gets into trouble (often of the outright defiance type ) and the parent simply says:

I can't control him at home either, so whatever.

All we are looking for is some kind of reinforcement at home of the consequences we are meting out at school as part of our classroom discipline plan. And for this to occur, often the parent must be in the same boat as the kid, meaning when the student is in trouble, it impacts the parent's life.

This is not my first choice as a means of parent-teacher communication, but somehow a message must be sent.

TIP: This can only be undertaken with the involvement of your principal, and should be tied to a classroom behavior plan of which the parent is fully aware.

Here's how it looks in practice:

If X happens, then Tim goes to the office and Tim's mom/dad has to come pick him up...regardless of time of day or job commitments.

If mom or dad can't come, then they are informed that Tim will not be going back to class until they come in for a conference, so they need to arrange for that first thing the next morning.

Believe it or not, there are parents who will even screen calls during the day. If the school shows up on caller ID, they won't answer. I talk more about this on the outright defiance page. Parent-teacher communication is difficult if one of the parties is actively discouraging it!

One might think that the ultimate parent inconvenience is suspending a child, but that assumes that the parent has a problem with leaving the child alone all day, which may or may not be the case. Suspension is certainly called for in certain circumstances, but for the sake of your classroom discipline plan, don't assume that it is terribly inconvenient for the parent.

On the other hand, if your building has a detention room where misbehaving students must stay after school, then this can be a large inconvenience as parents must make a trip to the school to pick up their child rather than relying on the bus. This also provides an opportunity for conversations with the parents.

Forced parent-teacher communication, but anything is better than nothing!

This is a difficult page to write...

I'm not going to belabor the points I've made. It just breaks my heart that there are kids out there whose teachers care more about their success than their parents. It shouldn't be that way. Parents should be knocking down your door to help when their kids are causing classroom discipline issues at school, and most do.

But some don't, and a dedicated teacher must be ready to implement parent-teacher communication in that situation as well.

Blaming the parents should not be the instinctive first response when a behavior problem arises with a child. This is not an effective teaching strategy, nor a best teaching practice that will lead to truly making a difference in the life of a student.

I'm not talking about negligent parents here, the ones who don't fulfill the basic obligations of child-rearing that our society expects. I'm talking about your standard, do-your-best-but-not-perfect know, the kind of parent that you are or were when your kids were in elementary school (I'm including my own imperfect parenting here).

No matter how conscientious a parent is, they cannot completely prepare their child to perform like a perfect little teacher-pleasing robot at school. Even if this is what should truly be desired (which it isn't), what parent can fully prepare their child to handle this new and ever-changing dynamic that we call "school?"

"School" - a simple word for a complex institution

[caption id="attachment_2671" align="alignright" width="150"]He's doing his we do ours He's doing his we do ours[/caption]School is a lot of things: Constant interaction with dozens of kids of all different personalities, rules, rituals, rewards, consequences, procedures and new stuff that stretches their brains to the limit every day.

And what about recent immigrants to this country who may not even speak English well at home? They are even less well-equipped to prepare their children for the social expectations of an American school.

All a "good" parent can really do is send their kid through the doors of the school every day as well-prepared as they can make them, then pick them up six hours later and do their best to get them ready to repeat it all again the next day. If a little reinforcement of learning can happen at home, that's a great bonus.

NOTE: We are never going back to the days when kids were taught to automatically respect all authority figures. It's a different society where authority figures must earn respect.

In between, during those critical six hours where the child is outside the direct influence of his parents, that's where the trained, experienced professional takes over. You know, the one who has learned effective teaching strategies, has a college degree (often a masters), years of experience and plenty of elementary teacher resources in the form of a full professional support staff.

The one who has made it her life's work to develop children into knowledgeable, intelligent citizens.

So I have a problem - a big problem - when the first reaction of a trained, professional teacher to a common classroom issue (such as talking) is to blame the parents. In effect, this teacher is saying:

If you can't get your kid under control while they are at school (even though you are at home), then I cannot and will not teach them. Your child should behave like a perfect audience member while I'm instructing, and if they don't...I'm done trying.

That is an unfortunate and unproductive attitude for any teacher to hold. I'm not saying my profession is easy...that's why I started this website, after all, to provide effective teaching strategies to help teachers get up to speed as quickly as possible. But no profession is easy; dedicated professionals just make it look easy.

Every child needs a great teacher

If we hold every parent to an unrealistic and unattainable standard of child-rearing, and only want to teach the "good" kids, we are excluding those children who need us - and who need the benefits of public education - the most.

If there is one profession that demands dedication, teaching is it. And when it comes to dedication, I mean dedication to the children and all of their unique, engaging, aggravating, irritating and inspiring little personalities.

That's simply what being a teacher is all about.

Thinking Points

  • Are all teachers automatically great parents?
  • Have you ever had another teacher's kid in your classroom?

Teacher Letters to Parents

Remember...sending home a positive note
about great behavior is a super idea

Notes, Newsletters & Emails A teacher letter to parents can take many forms, but they all have the purpose of cementing your strong parent-teacher relationship. There are some pitfalls to parent communication however. In this lesson, we learn how to avoid weak links in our communication … [Read more...]

Parent-Teacher Conference

"Missus Weigle? I've heard a lot about ya."

1-on-1 Meetings about Student Behavior A parent-teacher conference isn't just a twice-annual-event for reviewing schoolwork. Parent phone calls are the most-common means of communication, but sometimes a one-on-one meeting is in order. This can be nerve-wracking for teachers who have never … [Read more...]

Delivering News About Student Behavior


6 Steps to Delivering News About Poor Student Behavior The teacher-parent relationship will be strained when we communicate about poor student behavior. In this article, I reviewed "when" to call parents. Now I address "how"...and how is critical. There are some very important … [Read more...]

Parent-Teacher Communication Builds Strong Relationships

Make the first move

Partnering with Parents Parent-teacher communication is second only to the student-teacher communication in a successful classroom. Teachers are in partnership with parents to create the best possible education for kids. Do those statements seem kind of obvious? For many teachers, they … [Read more...]