Getting the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences—which can be stressful for both parents and the school staff—are scheduled in New York City elementary, intermediate and junior high schools for the week of November 13. Dr. Stuart Chen-Hayes of the Lehman College Division of Education offers suggestions for both lessening the anxiety of these meetings and making them more productive:

For schools:
– Offer a workshop on good listening skills for both parents/guardians and teachers/school counselors either before, during, or after the conference.

– Encourage regular communication throughout the year between parents/guardians and teachers/school counselors. Conference time should not be the start of a dialogue. Through regular communication, educators can convey the student’s strengths, in addition to any areas for improvement. We all benefit when calls and letters and emails go home filled with praise, and that helps to lessen fears of a communication that deals with a problem.

– Get information out to parents/guardians who don’t or can’t attend the conference, especially poor and working-class parents and those who are either illiterate or speak languages other than English. These parents/guardians are often not supported with translators on hand and other services, like child care, that would make it possible for them to participate. Recent immigrants may also come from countries where this type of conference is unheard of and only held if a student is misbehaving.

– Prepare parents/guardians ahead of their visit for how to make the best use of their conference time. Reminders can be posted via email or websites, and teachers/school counselors can follow up and even do conferences electronically.

– Offer workshops during conference night—especially for elementary and middle-school parents/guardians—on parenting skills, computer skills, the importance of Regents and Advanced Placement classes, and how to finance and apply for colleges. The more the school can offer in addition to a one-to-one conference, the more trust and credibility are created.

– Provide information on how each school is closing achievement and opportunity gaps as shown on school report cards. Special attention on how schools and school counseling programs are boosting the achievement levels of students of color, poor and working-class students, students with disabilities, and students who are English-language learners can increase trust and ensure that all students in all schools are getting what they need to succeed.

At elementary school conferences:
– Work to focus on what each child’s strengths are—and then look at what areas need improvement. This applies to both parents/guardians and teachers/school counselors.

– Provide teachers/school counselors with specific feedback about your children, including how they handle homework and the study environment at home.

– Discuss with parents/guardians the state learning standards, the school counseling program of supportive academic, career and personal/social skills and services, and how their child can benefit from these policies and programs.

– Acknowledge and appreciate feedback from parents/guardians, even if it is negative or uncomfortable. ‘Thank you for your feedback’ is a phrase that works well for everyone, even if you disagree. It helps to validate and support the caregiver, even if there are disagreements.

At intermediate and junior high school conferences:
– Discuss with parents/guardians not only academic issues but also educational planning in terms of college and career development, as well as the student’s social and personal skills. Focus on the whole child and the whole adolescent, which allows a wider range of feedback. What a different world it would be if every parent/guardian were asked on parent-teacher night, “What are your hopes and dreams for your child/adolescent, and how can we as the educational team of your school help to reach those goals?”

About Dr. Chen-Hayes: Through the Education Trust’s National Center for Transforming School Counseling and a $1.2 million federal grant, Dr. Chen-Hayes is working as lead trainer/consultant with New York City’s elementary school counselors, principals and lead teachers to implement the American School Counselor Assocation’s National Model for School Counseling programs. The new model is designed to help close achievement and opportunity gaps for all K-12 students in every public elementary school in the city.
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Media Contact: Marge Rice, 718-960-4992