Parent-teacher interviews can be a bit like playing poker. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away and when to run. These 5 minute bites of time can either form a fantastic working relationship between parents and teachers or unfortunately destroy any possibility of a partnership.
I’ve been on both sides of the parent – teacher interview table and have had my share of genuine relationships built there, but also some very uncomfortable and down right hostile conversations. As I prepare for this year’s experience as both a teacher and parent, I took some time to reflect on what makes a positive parent-teacher interview.
1. Come Prepared
Teachers: Bring your computer, all your current grades, relevant student work exemplars, and a method of recording parent information and conversation notes ( see my Parent/Teacher Interview Log).
Parents: Bring your child’s report card or interm report with you, as well as a couple specific questions you’d like the teacher to answers.
2. Introduce Yourself (first name), Shake Hands and Smile
Teachers and Parents: This should go without saying, but many teachers and parents assume they don’t need an introduction other than identifying which student they are there to speak about. Adding a hand shake and smile will create an atmosphere of positivity to start the interview, quell any nerves and disarm any hostility before it even begins.
3. Use the Positivity Sandwich (+/-/next step)
Teachers: Parents love their kids; hence hearing not so perfect things about them is hard to swallow. When you need to deal a tough card, start with a positive comment, follow up with the negative nugget you need to deliver, but finish the statement with a ‘next step’ regarding how the negative information can be remedied.
Parents: This process works for parents who need to deliver not so great reviews to teachers as well. Teachers can be a bit, ahem….sensitive. Start with a positive comment about the teachers’ class, then deliver the negative snippet and follow up quickly with a resolution to the potential problem.
4. Be Aware of Time Constraints
Teachers and Parents: If there has been a scheduled time for the interview, both parties should be aware of it and stick to it to ensure the teacher doesn’t fall behind with other scheduled times. I personally like to keep my watch or phone clearly on the interview table for both parties to see. If there is not a scheduled time, but a drop in type of interview then both parties should be more cognizant of the line forming – if there isn’t one, chat away; if there is, keep it quick.
5. Develop a Plan for Future Communication
Teachers and Parents: The purpose of parent teacher interviews is to start a communication stream between both parties to support the student. How can this continue in the future? Will there be bi-weekly/monthly emails updating the student’s progress via the teacher, or will the parents check in regularly? Can the parents follow the teacher’s website or Google Classroom? Developing a plan for future communication will build the partnership and create a positive atmosphere for student support.
1. Show up too Early or Stay too Late
Teachers: This should be pretty logical, but life happens. Nothing looks less professional than showing up late for parent teacher interviews. You will also seriously annoy the parents waiting for you and extend the line up for your table! You should, however, consider staying late if you still have parents waiting in your line. Cutting off interviews when parents have been waiting patiently to speak to you is unprofessional, within reason…….. i.e. don’t hang around for more than 30 minutes.
Parents: Don’t show up early and expect the teacher to be there! If the interviews start at a particular time, then be there for that time or shortly before. Also, unless it will only end up costing the teacher 15 minutes or so, try not to make them stay too late after the specific time allotted.
2. Plan for a Hostile Interview
Teachers and Parents: Let’s face it, sometimes both parties know that there is going to be a conflict due to either a prior issue or a low student grade. Parent teacher interviews is NOT the place to engage in this more challenging conference. At times, though, only one party is aware of the potential bomb that is about to explode; it is up to that particular person to schedule a separate time and place for this meeting. The purpose of parent teacher interviews is a 5 minute or so check in to build a relationship and discuss student progress, not to have a half- hour long heated discussion about opposing viewpoints.
Teachers and Parents: This can be tough in small town schools such as the one I work at, where everyone and their dog knows each other, but it has to be said. Parent teachers are about discussing student progress, not gossiping, catching up on friendships or talking about the latest book you’ve read. Save socializing for the local pub after the interviews – that’s where the teachers are usually heading anyways!
Teachers: Don’t compare students to other students or classes to past classes. Parents aren’t interested in other kids – they want information about their child. Also, comparing students is unprofessional and can make it seem like students are in competition with each other when in reality they are all learning at different paces. If sharing exemplars, share only that student’s work, don’t compare then student work with that of another.
Parents: Teachers also aren’t interested in being compared to past year’s teachers or your own teachers from childhood. Don’t focus on what other teachers have done in the past, or compare teaching methods and pedagogies. Each teacher has their own style and strengths, comparing them to others will not only waste time, but create an awkwardness regarding the teacher’s confidence in teaching your child.
5. Question Honesty
Teachers: If parents tell you that little Johnny is reading every night, don’t question this because he isn’t progressing at grade level. He could very well be reading and struggling. Realistically, you don’t know what is going on at home because you aren’t there. Trust that parents are your partners in education and are supporting your classroom initiatives at home.
Parents: Teachers are your right hand in parenting your child this school year. When they tell you something about your child (whether negative or positive), they aren’t lying. Don’t question their honesty regarding your child’s behaviour or progress. Doing so will certainly create a feeling of distrust in the parent – teacher relationship.
Parent – teacher interviews can be a wonderful opportunity to build relationships and support students. Creating positive, supporting relationships and partnerships to support students is what these interviews should be about.
What are your do’s and don’ts of parent-teacher interviews? Share in the comments below.