Parent-teacher conferences allow families and schools to work together in creating and supporting rich academic experiences for children. These meetings serve as a basis for parents' involvement in the educational development of their children. They are described here as hostile, ineffective, or informative.
Hostile conferences are power struggles between parents and teachers. They are the direct result of poor communications, status conflicts, personal confrontations, attributing blame, or the weak application of interpersonal skills. Hostilities usually occur when people are threatened, are embarrassed, or sense they are being taken advantage of, judged unfairly, or controlled. Hostile conferences represent a "lose-lose" situation in which neither party departs from the table with a plan to help the child succeed in school.
Ineffective conferences waste time and opportunities for collaboraÂ¬tion. They may cause teachers to form misconceptions about a child's homelife, especially when lines of communication for building a supportive home-school relationship are difficult to establish with parents. At times, ineffective or unproductive conferences are the result of poor planning, confusion, and the failure to listen to the concerns of each party.
Informative conferences have a set agenda or established purpose. They are conducted in a friendly, nonthreatening, businesslike manÂ¬ner with parents and teachers having an equal stake in the conference's success. Responsive and open to the other's ideas, the individuals communicate effectively while keeping the child's interests at the forefront of the discussion. Such conferences provide a possible plan of action to promote the child's academic and personal achievement and provide suggestions that parents and teachers can use to help the child overcome weaknesses. Informative conferences generally offer parents and teachers an opportunity to work together for the child's school success.
To ensure that parent-teacher conferences are successful, the following suggestions may help.
1. Establish a working relationship with parents early in the academic year, as the initial contact should be positive.
2. Use telephone calls, personal notes, and information sheets to keep parents up-to-date on the learning goals, objectives, and activities covered in class.
3. Set up meeting times that are responsive to working schedules and personal responsibilities.
4. Reduce the uncertainties and anxieties of parents by esÂ¬tablishing the purpose of the meeting before they attend.
5. Remind parents of the meeting time and location shortly before the meeting is to take place.
6. Create a summary sheet to review conference goals, purÂ¬poses, and expected outcomes. Also, gather necessary docuÂ¬ments to present a portfolio of the child's performances and behaviors in school. Have an agenda that allows the meeting to be timely, well organized, and task oriented.
7. Greet parents in a pleasant manner when they arrive. Remind them of the purposes established for the meeting.
8. Listen reflectively to parent's concerns and comments. Resist temptations to place blame; instead, make an attempt to emÂ¬pathize with the parents' struggle to assist their children. Try to remove blame from the discussion by focusing on ways to help improve the child's academic success.
9. Communicate in a clear and concise manner and avoid the use of educational jargon. Be sensitive to the real or perÂ¬ceived status differences between parents and educators by using "we" and not "you" in your conversation.
10. Focus on a plan of action to build on the child's strengths and alleviate learning weaknesses.
11. Use a problem-solving model to help parents understand issues and explore choices and possible solutions. Offer information on support services that can be beneficial. Be timely and offer realistic outcomes.
12. End parent conferences on a positive note.