A tough conference can be scary.
It’s true for all of us.
There is always a fear of those parents…you know the ones….the parents who can make the entire experience super miserable. Yes, you have emailed home. Of course, you have frequently updated grades. Naturally, you have added extra interventions for their student, and duh! You have printed out lots of reports to show those parents why their student isn’t doing so well.
And yet, those two parents can make you feel awful about yourself…make you feel small…like you did something wrong.
First of all…here me out now!
You are NOT SMALL! You MATTER! And you ARE DOING YOUR BEST! The fact that you are here reading this blog about conferences is evidence enough that you are a lifelong learner…someone who desires to grow in his/her craft and get better at it year after year.
YOU ARE DOING GREAT!
Now, beyond that, I think we all fear that tough conference; unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to avoid it. But what we CAN do is prepare ourselves in a way that helps us handle and survive a tough conference so that it ends with both you, the parents, and the student feeling good about the next step.
*Let me be clear that if you are ever feeling disrespected or threatened by a parent, you have a right to walk away from the conference and seek out your administration. You do not deserve to be treated in a way that makes you feel unsafe.
Here are four tips to help you handle a tough conference
#1 – Know your boundaries
As you speak to these parents, you are going to have a conversation about what more can be done to help their student move forward. You need to set clear boundaries about what you are willing and unwilling to do. Are you willing to spend more time working with the student after school? Could you sign a tracking sheet every day? Are you willing to come in early to help their student study for tests?
There is no right answer to any of these questions. You could be willing to try a checklist sheet that you have to sign after each class period. OR you may already be incorporating a lot of intervention into the student’s schedule and the next step may be a sit-down parent meeting with the counselor to seek out alternative options. Either way, it is important you know these boundaries ahead of time.
Just to be clear, though, the parent should be implementing more at home. After all, this child’s education is a team effort, not something that falls solely on your shoulders. So be sure to make a plan with the parent that incorporates extra effort on the student’s and parent’s part as well.
#2 – Create a positive atmosphere from the get-go
At the end of the day, the parents want what is best for their student and so do you! Let that be known right away! You could start the conference with phrases such as
- “I am glad we are all here because we all want Ronnie to be successful in 8th grade English and I have some ideas on how to help him during this tough time.”
- “We all want what is best for Ronnie and I am excited to work together to come up with a plan of attack so that he can succeed.”
Although these types of statements can be a bit cheesy in nature, they may help the parent to relax as soon as the meeting begins. From there, you can work together to come up with a plan that best suits all involved.
#3 – Listen intently and stay calm
If parents sit down and release their frustrations on you, listen intently. Often, parents just want to be heard, and you can show them right away that you are willing to listen. Should they say something that is off or accusing in nature, stay calm. Eventually, you will provide the reports that support and defend the student’s current standing in your classroom; however, it is possible the parents may be upset about something outside your classroom altogether and it is actually in your best interest to hear ALL of their frustrations before you move forward so that you can address their concerns head-on.
#4 – Agree…when you can
More than likely, parents are going to say some things that are possibly a bit off, and yet, some things that are perfectly accurate. Agree when you can! Parents want to be heard and feel validated in their frustrations. By agreeing with them (when it is validated), you will help deescalate them into a calmer state.
For example, if a parent says something like: “Lori has been working so hard, working on homework for over five hours each night.”
You can say something like: “I agree! Lori works very hard.” You may know that you don’t hand out much homework and find it completely unlikely that Lori spends five hours working on homework each night, but you can keep that to yourself at the moment and simply comment on what you agree with. Once the parent has calmed down, then you can dive into the reasons why Lori is struggling and create a plan to overcome that situation.
A tough conference is…well…tough!
But if you go into it with a plan, you have a better possibility of ending it peacefully rather than that sick-to-your-stomach feeling that we have all experienced.
One last note…because it is worth repeating: If there is any point in a conference when you feel disrespected, you do have the full right to walk away and seek out administration.
But unfortunately, there will always be tough conferences. Hopefully, these tips will help you prepare for them in a way that makes you feel confident and ready.