A parent-teacher conference is an excellent opportunity for families to meet with teachers to discuss their child’s progress. During parent-teacher meetings, teachers share more about each child’s growth and progress toward developmental milestones or learning goals and get the opportunity to learn from parents to support their child’s learning better.
Planning a successful parent-teacher conference involves preparing and anticipating some things families want to know. We’ve compiled this comprehensive guide below to help you plan a productive meeting.
Basics of parent-teacher conferences
Conferences are a great opportunity to build strong partnerships between families and educators. This dedicated meeting time creates an important space for open communication between teachers and families, celebrating each child’s progress and aligning on specific goals to support their continued growth. They also provide a valuable connection with families, increasing their engagement in their child’s learning.
How long are parent-teacher conferences?
Parent-teacher conferences are usually brief meetings lasting between 10 to 30 minutes. Making the most of your time as a teacher, especially if you interact with many families, is vital.
Here are tips to consider when planning a parent-teacher conference:
- Send out the agenda beforehand, so everyone is aware of the timing.
- Get families' questions and concerns in advance. You can use online survey forms to gather this information.
- Use an hourglass so everyone has a non-disruptive visual of the remaining time. This is better than setting an alarm or checking the time every 5 minutes.
- If a conference is going over the scheduled time limit, teachers can suggest a follow-up meeting.
- Communicate in advance concerns like delays in developmental milestones or challenging behaviors.
How frequent are parent-teacher conferences?
Parent-teacher conferences are usually held once or twice a year and are typically scheduled one to two months in advance. It's important to find a mutually convenient time for families (e.g., evening conferences to accommodate those that work during the day) and give families as much notice as possible to ensure attendance.
It may also be helpful to send home reminders to families a week before the conference or remind families via text message or an app if your center uses one. If a conflict arises, try to schedule an alternative meeting either by phone or video.
What information is discussed at a preschool parent-teacher conference?
Teachers and families can discuss the child’s developmental progress, including any recent assessments or portfolios of their work, as well as the child’s strengths, needs, and behaviors. Teachers can set the agenda beforehand, allowing enough time for parents to ask questions and share any of their concerns.
Benefits of a parent-teacher conference
You can’t underestimate the benefits of planning or attending a parent-teacher conference. Parent-teacher conferences facilitate smooth teaching and learning and uphold good relations between teachers, families, and children. Below, we elaborate on why parent-teacher conferences are worth it:
Builds positive relationships between teachers and families
Parents and guardians are a child's first and most important teachers. Their primary role is to prepare their child for school and life and establish the right foundation for teachers to build on. Parent-teacher conferences are an opportunity to come together for the child’s benefit.
Parent-teacher conferences align expectations in many ways. For example, early childhood teachers are professionals and know more about developmental milestones, which are the framework for assessing child growth and development.
Teachers can advise families if they notice a delay in children's development. Teachers and families can also collaborate on specific goals to support child development based on results from the meeting.
Increasing opportunities at school and home for practice, monitoring development or behavior, and making an early intervention referral are some goals families and teachers can collaborate together to accomplish.
Allows families insight into how to extend learning at home
Teachers can share how families can extend a child’s learning at home with simple activities aligned with the curriculum at school. For example, suppose the children are investigating local birds at school. In that case, parents can take the children bird watching, record their observations, go to the library to research the birds found, and circle back with the class the following week with their findings.
Increases family involvement
Parent-teacher conferences are an excellent opportunity for teachers to engage families and teach them to be advocates for their children. This way, they can better support their children at home and school to achieve their developmental milestones.
Improves learning outcomes
Children's behavior and development improve when families and teachers collaborate. Parent-teacher conferences create a platform where families and teachers can discuss ways to improve learning outcomes by setting and tracking appropriate goals. The conference outcomes equip families with strategies to consistently support their children at home and teachers to do their work diligently at school.
How to conduct a successful parent-teacher conference
A successful parent-teacher conference requires careful planning to ensure that both teachers and families get the most out of their time together. Teachers can share a thorough agenda beforehand, prepare materials that show each child's progress, and take the time to collect questions and concerns from families before the meeting. Below we discuss important steps to consider as you get ready to meet with families:
Prepare relevant conference materials
A holistic child assessment or conference form is a must-have item to present to families. The form can cover various developmental domains and show a child’s cognitive, language, social-emotional, and physical progress. Preparing a conference agenda beforehand saves you time and keeps you organized as you work on other parent-teacher conference logistics.
Prepare relevant child-specific questions to ask families. This is an opportunity to learn more about your children through their families’ eyes. Here are several prompts for inspiration:
- Tell me your favorite memory of your child.
- What about your child makes you smile?
- How can I best connect with your child?
- How can I best support your child when they are upset?
- How can I best encourage your child when meeting challenges?
- What is your child most interested in these days?
- What does your child find frustrating?
- What is your child sharing about their class experience?
- What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
Teachers can also prepare a positive anecdote about each child, so families can glimpse who their child is within the class community. It also demonstrates to families that teachers really see, know, and cherish the child as part of the community.
If a child is exhibiting challenging behavior or not meeting developmental milestones, it’s a good idea to inform families right away rather than waiting for parent-teacher conference time to roll around. Generally, any difficult conversations about sensitive or urgent issues should have their own separate meetings with families. This ensures that any concerns can be addressed immediately and families are not taken by surprise during a parent-teacher conference.
Send invitation notices
The invitation notice can include the date, time, and venue for the meeting. Also, the notice can remind parents about the importance of attending the parent-teacher conference and their opportunity to ask questions. If applicable for your center, consider giving parents several dates or times to choose from in order to increase attendance. This resource from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is great to send home with children to help families prepare.
Create a welcoming environment
Ensure the classroom environment is welcoming and comfortable for families. Decorating the classroom and displaying children’s work are great ways to improve classroom aesthetics. Some families may arrive with other children, so ensure there’s plenty of room to accommodate everyone.
Also, get an adult-sized table and chairs for the conference and more toys to keep the other children occupied during the conference. You can also provide pens and papers for parents to take notes. Depending on your budget, you may also provide healthy snacks or water for refreshments after the session.
Restate the conference objectives
The primary goal of the conference is to discuss children’s progress. You can educate parents on how their children perform physically, socially, academically, and emotionally.
All progress is important, whether positive or negative. However, starting with the positives before discussing the negatives is recommended.
Discuss the child’s progress
Parents are invested in their children's success and want to know about their progress. You can discuss children’s ability levels according to what you offer in your curriculum. Conference documents like report cards or progress reports come in handy during these discussions.
Some parents may want to know how their children perform compared to their peers. Politely remind them the conference is about a child’s individual growth and development progress.
Navigate difficult conversations calmly
Having difficult conversations with parents is an uncomfortable but inevitable part of being an early childhood educator. It’s important to remember that the relationships you build with parents are based on effective communication, trust, and collaboration. These are the foundations you’ll use to navigate through difficult conversations.
Typically, sensitive or urgent issues should have their own in-person meeting outside of a parent-teacher conference. However, difficult topics may arise during conferences which can lead to heightened emotions. In these tense situations, respond in a calm and direct way. Keep the conversation focused on the issue and finding a resolution. If necessary, allow everyone to take a short break.
Ask for the parent’s perspective to gain a deeper understanding of the issue and repeat back their main points so they know they are being heard. It’s essential to remind everyone that you’re one team working together to provide the child with the best tools for success.
Use simple language
Avoid using jargon that a parent would struggle to understand. Instead, explain any terms, words, or phrases that aren’t commonly used outside an early childhood education setting so there is no miscommunication.
Preparing relevant questions to ask families is an important step in your preparation. The best practice is to ask questions and allow the parents to respond as you take notes.
The questions can be centered around a child’s strengths, needs, challenges, and learning style. More importantly, ask them about what they desire for their child. Creating a success plan is easy when you are on the same page.
Provide families with actionable goals
Decide on shared goals that educators and families can work towards to support or advance their child’s development. These may include any additional activities that families can implement at home or increased opportunities at school.
You may recommend parents assist their children with homework or purchase more materials for home-based learning. Lastly, you can also encourage families to enroll their children in different enrichment programs to support learning outside the normal school environment.
Follow up after the meeting
Exchange contact information with families to keep communication lines open. Follow-ups are crucial if you want to know whether your solutions are working. You can adjust your recommendations depending on the outcome. Remember to include a thank you note to thank families for their time and a copy of the conference agenda.
Common parent questions
Families also prepare for parent-teacher conferences. Many will take the time to compile a list of questions to ask during your meeting, so it’s a good idea to anticipate these beforehand and have your responses ready. Below are some possible questions parents may ask during a parent-teacher meeting:
How are my child’s pre-academic skills progressing?
Preschool teaches pre-academic skills to prepare children for kindergarten. Therefore, families will want to know about their child’s cognitive, language, and problem-solving skills development. You can come prepared with information related to your curriculum, documentation of activities, and specific examples of how their child is making progress in each area.
Can you tell me how my child is doing socially and emotionally?
A child’s social-emotional skills are a crucial part of their overall development. Educators play a key role in supporting the development of these skills and can share how each child is progressing in areas such as self-regulation, problem-solving, expressing themselves, making social connections and friendships, resolving conflicts, and collaborating.
What do your assessments mean?
It's important that families understand how their child is being assessed. Teachers can be prepared to provide an overview of their assessment tools, how they work, and any recommended next steps.
Is there anything my child needs extra support with?
Teachers spend a great deal of time with children and know their strengths and any areas they may need extra support with. Concerned parents will most likely ask this question to see if there’s anything they can do to support their progress at home.
Can I tell you what’s going on at home?
Some families go through challenges or changes that can impact their children at school. It can be beneficial to discuss each family’s unique circumstances during this time so educators can better support each child’s learning.
What’s the best way to keep in touch with you?
Even if this question doesn’t come up during the conversation, it’s a good practice to set clear expectations with families about how and when to reach you. If any goals or follow-up actions were agreed upon during the parent-teacher conference, it is important to set up a future time to touch base to keep everyone updated on any progress.
Conducting a successful parent-teacher conference requires careful planning and teamwork from both teachers and families. With a clear agenda and welcoming environment, parent-teacher conference time provides an opportunity for teachers and families to learn more about each child’s individual progress and work together on shared goals. When done right, parent-teacher conferences can build positive relationships between teachers and families, align expectations, and improve learning outcomes.
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