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5 ways to manage difficult parent conferences

Turn potential conflict into teachable moments for parents, teachers and students.

4 min read




We’ve all heard the saying that when a parent is actively involved in their child’s academics, that student is more likely to succeed. A recent study indicates that parents are indeed becoming more involved. As a teacher I appreciate this but having more parents more involved also presents a challenge in the form of more difficult conversations about students. We all want to support every child’s academic career, but emotions and miscommunication can sometimes get in the way.

Here are a handful of tips for making those not-so-easy conversations more manageable and productive. 

1) Respond quickly and privately. The most common type of conflict I have to discuss with parents is how their child is doing in school. When a student is rapidly declining in academics or behavior, I will send the parent a message privately, explaining the difficulty the child is having and requesting a parent conference. I like to use Bloomz, an app for parent-teacher communication, rather than a phone call. It lets me see when the parent has viewed the message. I don’t have to worry about lost notes or taking time out of class to make a phone call.

2) Make difficult conversations easier by starting with something positive. When I am planning the meeting, I state some positives and some concerns in the message .and set up a time to talk with the parent. Prior to the meeting, I set an ideal outcome of what I want to accomplish. This helps keep me focused on that goal as the conversation advances.

3) Listen first. I often go into the conversation pretending to not know much, and that I am there to learn as much about the child that I can. I allow the parent to explain their side and not interrupt. At times, it’s important to include the student in the conversation. It really depends on the situation.

4) Be sensitive, not defensive. To deliver the information to a parent in a conference, I try to be as sensitive as possible while still moving toward my goal in a professional manner. Asking for input and looking for ways we can work together toward a solution allows me to collaborate with the parent.

If parents become defensive in a conference, I stay calm. I never let my anger or emotions show. I speak slowly, and make sure not to become defensive myself. I state the problem and the consequence, and don’t try to lengthen the conversation by asking questions. I maintain eye contact and keep restating the problem and consequence.

I may suggest ideas on how the parent can help, and offer to make solutions together. If the parent becomes very angry, I ask him or her to reschedule a meeting and, in the meantime, to write his/her complaints down in a message on Bloomz. If I feel the message has allowed the parent to get their point across, I will continue to communicate with that parent through the app rather than a personal conference.

5) Step in to help students who don’t have parental support. One of the hardest parts about being a teacher is knowing that some students come from a difficult background. If a child has indicated that they do not have parental support at home, I make an honest effort to work through solutions with them. We talk about ways to improve at school together and steps I can help them follow. I offer support where they need it, and we work on problems together as a team.

It’s certainly not an easy task to keep communication lines open between parents and teachers. But with dedication from both sides, we can come together to become the strong support system that every child needs to perform their best.

Kendra LeRoy is a fifth-grade math teacher in southern Indiana.

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