Parent Teacher Conferences 101

Conducting Parent-Teacher Conferences 101 isn’t a course in teacher education classes, probably because every teacher has a unique personality and communication style and every community has its own context and culture that makes any kind of standard impossible to apply.  There is no formula to address human diversity, and working with people is messy business.  Still, the following tips should serve a teacher well:

      • Accentuate the positive
      • Offer encouragement
      • Be gracious and understanding
      • Diffuse anger/frustration
      • Be willing to compromise
      • Enlist help from parents to address any negative behavior
      • Nurture partnerships

While sometimes difficult, a teacher should try to always remember that students are more than a set of behaviors.  Even though some of them are easily identified by a set of behaviors, they are human beings worthy of respect and dignity.  Whenever possible, teachers need to look past those behaviors and tempting labels to see unique needs, desires, and preferences.

Parents will often take the behavior and performance of their children personally, as a reflection on them and their parenting, so their defensive, sometimes hostile attitudes are understandable.  After all, their children are likely their most treasured gifts.

Given that line of thinking, it may be difficult to envision grading a treasure.  Still, when it comes time for grading, those grades should reflect achievement.  Sometimes teachers have to make difficult decisions to hold a child back; we have to care enough to keep them at the same level until they really learn.  Even though achievement involves failure, unfortunately in education, the possibility of an F is often worse than Hester’s scarlet letter A.  We are about as afraid of confusion as we are afraid of failure.  These effective states are connected to our self-esteem and to our needs for mastery.  We are taught to avoid these feelings, socialized into thinking they are taboo.  Fear of failure often censors a person, who will do what’s safe.  Because of fear, we don’t take risks or ask questions; therefore, we learn less.

I propose that educators abolish the grades of D and F and replace them with NY—Not Yet.  Instead of sending the demoralizing message of reprimand and failure, the NY suggests possibility—that given time, patient practice, and application, achievement will come.  When a student says, “I don’t get it,” the nurturing “not yet” supports the notion of eventual competence.  Furthermore, potential, with its root word potent, means that there is energy or force for growth and development.

Until education revises grading practices, however, teachers are left with difficult discussions and candid explanations to parents about their child’s performance, sharing a plan for improvement.  And amidst those challenges, always remember the words of John Quincy Adams: “To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind.”  Teachers are special people doing ultra-important work!

By Dr. Donna L. Miller

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