by Joan Hegarty Givens, licensed professional counselor
- Identify your goals. This might include general goals for all students’ conferences and more
individualized goals for specific students.
- Capture parents’ attention by personalizing the invitation. Provide a special written
invitation, not one that looks like it has been broadcast to hundreds of others. Or, make phone
calls or send e-mails that encourage attendance. Such efforts provide parents with a sense that
you really want them to join you and increase the likelihood they will come. You could let
students design their parents’ invitations.
- Tell parents what you hope to accomplish at the meeting.
- Ask if they have specific concerns that should be addressed.
- Set the stage for partnership by letting parents know that what you will share will help
them guide their child’s learning.
During the conference
- Make parents feel comfortable. Greet them at the door. Forego your normal seat behind the
teacher’s desk. Start with some conversational pleasantries that are not task-focused.
- Share your goals for the conference; then ask about their goals.
- Focus first on the child’s strengths and accomplishments. Compliment the parents’ roles in
these positive aspects to recognize each parent’s competence.
- When there are challenges or weak areas to address, present them as problems you can work to
resolve as a team. Talk about what you can offer; then acknowledge that the parents can support
the child’s efforts. Ask what they feel they can do and want to try. The student, too, should be
recognized as a potential member of this team and can be included in problem-resolution
discussion and the formation of a game plan for success.
- Write down decisions that are made and ideas discussed. Review them with the parents so they
know you are listening. This is a critical element of collaboration and partnership.
- Stay on time by focusing on the task. If all participants do not seem to be finished when
it’s time to end the meeting, suggest that you schedule an additional conference.
- Be sensitive to how you present yourself as you guide the meeting to a close. You want the
parents to leave feeling that you value their child as well as what they have to offer.
Engaging hard-to-reach parents
- Try to erase preconceived notions you may have developed from misinterpretations of parents’
actions (or inaction). Assess their situations. What might be the reasons they aren’t on top of
their children’s homework? Consider such variables as the parents’ education levels, how many
parents are in the household, evening demands of operating that household and, of course, work
schedules. Also, could the parent have had a negative school experience as a child?
- Make a special phone call to the parent or spend a little more time during the initial
“getting to know you” part of the conference. Offer to share more information, tools and ideas
that will help him help his child be successful.
- Inform parents of how often and by what means (telephone, notes, e-mail, newsletters, weekly
student folders, subsequent meetings, etc.) you will continue to share information.
- Encourage parents to communicate regularly with you, and be sure they understand the ways
they can provide you with information about their children and ask you for help. You might have
cards printed with your telephone number and e-mail address that you can hand parents to
emphasize your intent to keep in touch.
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