Acing the Parent-Teacher Conference

Conducting a student-centered and data-driven conference will put the responsibility on the student and ensure that the meeting runs smoothly.

By Stef Durr


parent, student, teacher

How do you prepare for parent-teacher conferences? Although it’s often difficult to find a spare moment in a teacher’s schedule, preparing some essential items beforehand will prove beneficial when conferences roll around. So, what should be in these folders besides the report card?

1. Test Scores for the Year

If you can get your hands on assessment data from a state or district wide test, that would be great. If you don’t have access to those numbers easily, pull up and print out the data from your personal classroom. Perhaps you give a weekly quiz. Print out learners' numbers for each week to reference hard data and identify patterns. Make these numbers even more powerful by including the class average for each assessment (or at least the large unit assessments). This gives parents a frame of reference.

2. The Number of Absences in Your Classroom

You might not need to utilize this sheet, but it’d be great to have it on hand, particularly for the kids who have frequent absences. Oftentimes, missing school is linked with missing work, and if a class member is repeatedly absent, he is going to miss lessons and assignments.

3. A Hard Number Associated with Behavior (if it’s an issue)

For most schools, this might be in the form of number of detentions, office visits, or referrals. Behavior often disrupts learning, and parents aren’t always aware that their child has earned such consequences in school.

4. A Brief List of Talking Points and Questions for the Learner

Having this list written down beforehand ensures that you won’t stumble over your words or let any questions or comments derail your train of thought. Here are some questions I use for struggling learners (depending on the issue at hand):

  • How do you prepare for tests or quizzes in this class?
  • Give your effort in this class a rating between 1-5. Explain that rating.
  • What are you doing well?
  • What do you need to work on to see growth?
  • What are some goals you’d like to set for next trimester/semester?
  • What do you do when you don’t understand something? What should you do?
  • Identify a category you’re going to improve next trimester/ semester? (Categories could include homework, classwork, formative assessments, summative assessments, projects, behavior, etc.) 

Once these folders are ready, you have the information you need to guide your class member and family through a data-driven conversation. Although many different formats can be successful, I tend to structure conferences in the following way:

(Note: This schedule was designed for a 15-minute conference. The numbers at the left signify where the conversation should be at that time.)



0-2 Minutes

  • Introduce yourself and review the meeting agenda. Not only does this give the meeting a structured time, but parents also know exactly what will be covered and when to voice specific concerns.

2-4 Minutes

  • Have the learner start the meeting. Ask him/her what things went well this trimester/semester.
  • Add some positive comments about the learner, his work ethic, any successful assessments, etc., and encourage the parents to chime in as well.

4-6 Minutes

  • Present the report card. Before parents have a chance to comment, I like having the learner share with the group how he/she feels about the final grades.
  • Is there a grade he is proud of? Is there a grade he is disappointed with? Why?

6-10 Minutes

  • Look at assessment data. This data is probably the most accurate indicator of performance (vs. homework, classwork, etc.). Ask the learner to make observations about the data.
  • If there is a large discrepancy between the final grade and the assessment data, schedule more time to discuss possible reasons for this differences. (This would also be an opportune time to provide parents with an absence report or behavioral concerns, as they can both link to performance.)

10-12 Minutes

  • Set goals with the learner. Ask him/her to identify specific areas that he/she is going to work on for the following semester/trimester. Write these goals down to reference throughout the trimester and even at the next conference. 

12-15 Minutes             

  • Wrap up the meeting. Are there any questions or concerns from the family? Do you need to set up a time to touch base throughout the upcoming weeks to monitor progress?

Parent-teacher conferences are often stressful times for the teacher, the learner, and the family. If you adequately prepare beforehand, a lot of the stress is lifted. What makes you feel successful during your parent-teacher conferences? Our learning community can benefit from your knowledge and experience!