A parent/teacher conference is a great opportunity for parents and educators to discuss the learning needs and progress of individual children, but good communication must start with proper etiquette. If either the parent or the teacher attends the conference with rude behavior, very little will be accomplished and it is the child’s education that will suffer.
Why Etiquette Matters
Not only does etiquette matter because it presents a good example of acceptable behavior to a child, but parents and teachers who can communicate politely can share their ideas and concerns easily in order to benefit the child’s education. An impolite parent, on the other hand, may inadvertently jeopardize their child’s relationship with the teacher by giving the impression that the teacher does not deserve respect, while an impolite teacher dishonors the family a child loves. When both parties are polite, the conference can be productive and beneficial.
Conference Etiquette for Parents
A parent’s involvement is critical in a child’s education and helps emphasize the value of learning to young children. When parents are polite to teachers, they help the child realize that the teacher is someone to respect and to listen to.
*Introduce Themselves: A proper introduction is the first step in courteous communication. If the child is not making introductions, the parent should include the child’s name with their greeting to help the teacher orient themselves for a productive conference. A firm handshake or offering a business card is also courteous and helpful.
*Ask Questions: Most teachers will have a few initial remarks about each child, such as commenting on the student’s grades, behavior, or willingness to learn. Parents should consider those remarks only the introduction to the conference, however, and should feel free to ask questions about specific issues of concern. This will help both the parent and the teacher understand what needs to be addressed for a child’s educational needs.
*Respect the Teacher’s Profession: It is never polite or acceptable to criticize or belittle a teacher, regardless of the grade level or subject material. The adage “those who can’t do, teach” is a demeaning myth about the skills necessary to be a teacher, and parents must recognize and respect each teacher as a professional. Teachers study for years in specific content areas, child development, educational strategy, and other skills necessary to be effective in the classroom. If there are deeper concerns about a teacher’s effectiveness, a private conference with school administrators should be arranged.
*Avoid Discussing Money: Finances are rarely a polite topic of conversation, and parents who believe their taxes pay for a teacher’s salary are grossly mistaken. Using such a petty argument in order to gain control over a conference will only undermine the purpose of the discussion: to discover what is best for the student’s education. Parents and teachers alike must approach a conference as two members of a team trying to help a student win at the game of learning.
*Arrange a Private Conference: If the conference needs to discuss private issues or items in more depth than the time allotted allows, parents should avoid overstaying their time and instead arrange another opportunity to meet with the teacher. Most teachers are available before or after school daily to meet with parents, or they may be able to arrange meetings during planning or lunch periods if necessary.
Conference Etiquette for Teachers
Unfortunately, many teachers only have conferences with parents when negative issues are impacting students’ grades, and this can lead to initial defensiveness and mistrust when a parent may seem agitated or confrontational. Teachers who approach conferences politely can help put parents at ease and avoid tense, emotional discussions.
*Dress Professionally: While the standard attire for a normal school day may be casual slacks and a simple collared shirt, teachers should dress more conservatively and professionally when meeting with parents. Even though the teacher may know the student well, a parent/teacher conference may be the first impression the teacher makes on the parent. Presenting a professional appearance will reinforce the teacher’s authority and expertise.
*Be Prepared: Even if the conference is arranged on short notice, the teacher should be prepared with the student’s most recent graded work, attendance reports, and any other necessary notes on behavior or issues of concern. Bringing a copy of recent coursework and the class guidelines or syllabus will help the teacher and parent connect over what is most important: the student’s performance.
*Avoid Comparisons: While it can be tempting to show that one student’s poor grades are not reflective of classroom achievement as a whole, teachers must avoid comparing one parent’s child to other students in the class. Doing so can not only be a violation of privacy laws, but it sheds no light on that individual child’s performance or difficulties. Instead, focus on the child’s efforts and what is necessary for them to improve, including what resources are available for help.
*Avoid Judgments: Just as parents should not pass judgment on a teacher’s professional abilities, the teacher avoid judging the parent by personal appearance or behavior. Instead, focus solely on the behaviors and ability the student has demonstrated, and work with the parent to find a way to help the child improve. By forming a partnership with the parent, the teacher can create a strong ally to motivate a student to work harder in class.
*Offer Other Ways to Communicate: When a parent shows genuine concern about their child’s education, it helps the student develop a respect for education and love of learning. Teachers can foster that by establishing a bond with parents through frequent communication. Offer a website or email address, office telephone number, or availability times to let parents continue that communication outside scheduled conferences.
Conference Etiquette for Students
Whether or not a student is a part of conferences is often dictated by school policy or the teacher’s preference, but students who are a part of these discussions benefit from seeing the concern both their parents and teachers express about their educational performance. While it can be an awkward meeting, students who are polite and engaged will learn not only how to improve their grades, but also whom they can trust for help and support.
*Make Introductions: When the student is present, it is appropriate for them to introduce their parents and teacher. Do not introduce parents as “Mom” and “Dad” however – instead, use their full names, and remind parents what subject the teacher teaches if appropriate.
*Be Honest: Depending on the student’s behavior at home and at school, certain discrepancies may come to light during a conference. Rather than compounding any lies, inadvertent or not, the student should be honest about their behavior and performance. Honesty also includes admitting when something is unclear or misunderstood, and being honest can help both parents and teachers understand how best to offer assistance and guidance.
*Be a Good Listener: It is likely that parents and teachers will carry on the bulk of the conversation at a conference, even if the student is sitting at the same table. Practice good listening skills and note what concerns both parties have, so you will know what to improve on in the classroom. Listening carefully can also help you understand your parents’ and teacher’s perspective so you can communicate better with them yourself.
A parent/teacher conference, whether a one-time event or a regular consultation, is a great time for open and honest communication about a student’s performance and abilities. By approaching that communication in a polite and courteous way, everyone can focus on what is most important at the conference: the student.