Avoid These 5 Parent-Teacher Conference Pitfalls

October 04, 2018

Brynne Mattson

M.Ed. in English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education


With the fall semester underway, many teachers are preparing for round one of parent-teacher conferences. While conferences present a valuable opportunity to share student progress, get to know families and problem-solve when challenges arise, they can also be incredibly daunting.

These days, I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with parents and celebrate students’ growth, but I wasn’t always that way, and I didn’t arrive at this place without several “teachable moments.” But those past mistakes helped make me a better ally to parents and avoid certain snags moving forward.

Take it from me: If you find yourself about to fall victim to these conference pitfalls, STOP and ask yourself, “WWBD?” What would Brynne do? (And then revisit this post.)

Parent-Teacher Conference Pitfalls

1. Falling Behind Schedule

Honor each family’s appointment time by setting a schedule and sticking with it. I’ve found it helps to post a copy of the schedule outside my door to minimize confusion. At my school, each conference is only 20 minutes in length, so I often suggest scheduling additional conferences for a later date when conversations run long.

If your school doesn’t have its own late policy, consider creating your own to help manage time. Have a plan for accommodating or rescheduling families that arrive more than five minutes late.

2. Not Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere

With all the logistical preparation and mounds of papers to be distributed, it’s easy to overlook the importance of establishing an inviting atmosphere when families arrive. Set out a few chairs in the hallway for families while they wait, and consider leaving out crayons or books for parents with small children. Displaying student work samples, either in the hallway or around the classroom, is another welcoming touch and a great conversation starter.

3. Being Too Teacher-Centered

If you haven’t done it before, consider inviting students to their own conferences! It’s a great way to ensure that conversations remain student-focused, and it creates shared ownership among everyone participating. Students can demonstrate their learning in a hands-on way, share a work sample they’re proud of or communicate goals for the school year. No matter how much is on the agenda, don’t forget to provide time and space for parents and students to ask questions, express concerns and dialogue about solutions.

4. Not Planning in Advance

I usually create a checklist of items I’d like to discuss with parents weeks before the conference actually takes places. Behavior, homework habits, reading skills and class participation often make their way onto my fall conference agenda. Creating a plan far in advance gives me time to observe students in each of these areas and take notes to share with parents. You’ll feel more prepared going into the conference, and parents will appreciate the specific details you are able to share.

5. Focusing on Problems, Not Solutions

If a student is struggling with behavior or falling behind academically, make sure to communicate these concerns in advance of conferences. That way, your time with families can be focused on brainstorming solutions and building rapport – a much more challenging task without face-to-face dialogue. No matter how difficult the circumstances, find a way for parents to leave conversations feeling encouraged and involved. This will help make conferences a positive experience for everyone.

Educators, what are your best parent-teacher conference tips? Share them in the comments below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing.

Teachers and educators can take advantage of American College of Education’s online education degree programs. Learn about our M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Brynne Mattson
Brynne Mattson, M.Ed. in English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education

Brynne has dedicated her career to teaching elementary English language learners in Texas and Georgia. She currently teaches third grade dual-language immersion.

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