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 experienced one… and frankly, some parents can be imposing characters, both physically and personality-wise!
In this article, I'll apply the 6 communication steps to a parent-teacher conference about behavior.
When is a parent-teacher behavior meeting needed?
You'll know… if you don't let your uneasiness about such a meeting scare you away from setting one up. In general, there are two scenarios:
1. Multiple phone calls or informal discussions (such as at the bus line) have not made an impact on behavior.
2. The behavior is serious enough to warrant a meeting – too serious to only make a phone call. (Of course you'll need to make a call to set it up.)
An in-person meeting allows for much more impactful communication, if it's handled properly.
Who sets up the meeting?
A principal or counselor might set it up, but regardless of who decides one is needed, I'm a big advocate for the teacher taking control right from the start. More on this below.
If you need to establish a one-on-one meeting, just add this phrase at the end of your phone call discussing the issue:
“I'd really like to meet with you and Thomas here at the school this week so we can talk about it. Is there a good time for you to come in?”
Notice that we are trying to set up a meeting quickly. We don't want memories of the issue to fade too much before our discussion.
Applying the 6 Steps to Parent Meetings
Before we get started, a question: Who should run the meeting? You can guess my answer, can't you?
You run the meeting.
I'm a strong advocate for the classroom teacher taking a leadership role whenever one of her students is involved – not sitting meekly (and weakly) on the sidelines while someone else runs the ball. A little experience will make this easier.
Let's run through the six steps again and apply them to a personal parent-teacher conference. Here they are, as explained more fully on this page. (I include example phrases – written and audio – on that page.)
The 6 steps to good parent-teacher communication:
- Start the conversation with a friendly greeting
- Stay focused on the issue at hand
- Be gentle and speak with a calm voice
- Step into the shoes of the parent and consider what they hear
- Present a positive along with the negative
- Provide a task for the parents to complete
The 6 steps in action
1. Start the conversation with a friendly greeting
This is extremely important. Remember that this meeting is taking place on your turf and the parent may be quite uncomfortable – especially if their own history with school and principals was a little rocky. Be friendly.
Mentally prepare yourself for anything. I've forcefully shaken the hand of a 300-pound gang member with piercings, tattoos and a grille (teeth jewelry). Be confident – fake it if you need to! Just remember that you are the expert in curriculum and child behavior; this is your territory and you have important and valuable things to say.
Introduce anyone else at the meeting. With that step alone you have established that you are in charge.
If the student is in attendance, be sure to personally greet her as well. She will be very nervous and will need her teacher's reassurance.
2. Stay focused on the issue at hand
3. Be gentle and speak with a calm voice
4. Step into the shoes of the parent and consider what they hear
These three go together. When your heart is pounding and you have an audience watching (including your boss), it can be very easy to be unfocused and use a strident tone of voice. Consider having a small note card if you need to, and include a note to yourself to pause and ask for questions and input.
Which brings up the next point:
This is a conversation, not a lecture.
Be extra certain that you actively create space for mom or dad to be heard and to share their thoughts. Use your questioning strategies to encourage their participation:
“Have you noticed anything at home?”
“What has Jeremy been telling you?”
Add these to your note card if you need to.
5. Present a positive along with the negative
This is always important, but if your student is present at the meeting, it becomes imperative. This can be an ideal moment to build the student-teacher relationship, not just the parent-teacher relationship.
6. Provide a task for the parents to complete
Sometimes the parents don't have the skills needed to know what to do to help the situation. Get them invested and ask them to help the parent/teacher/child team by doing something specific, but not difficult. For example:
“I'll be reinforcing kindness and helping Thomas build relationships at school by having him be a math tutor for our next unit. It would be great if you would make sure he has some chores at home that provide service to your family.”
“Talk to him about doing them cheerfully and thank him for it. This will help him know we are working together so he can be successful. Please call me on Thursday afternoon to let me know how it's going.”
This is a natural conclusion to a meeting, and it will often generate some discussion between mom/dad and child.
Video tips: Parent behavior meetings
Cautions and concerns
Be prepared to carefully listen to and observe the parent-child interactions you witness. It can be eye-opening and may reveal the root of the behavior problems in your classroom.
It's information that can help, but not something you should get involved in unless the child is somehow in danger.