Parent Teacher Conferences for Student Success

Revised October 2016

Get started with conference game plans:

Giving Parents Accurate and Honest Assessments by Mary Tarashuk
►Five Ideas to Improve Parent Conferences by Amber Chandler
►Educators: Balancing Give and Gain in Parent-Teacher Conferences by Rachel Morello
►Talking to Parents About the Common Core (Resources & Tips) by Sarah Brown Wessling

Whether parents and guardians arrive for their Parent Teacher Conferences with confidence or anxiety, those periodic meetings at school to discuss student progress demand educators’ attention. You can watch a conference unfold and view a mentor’s follow-up suggestions in this 10-minute video from Teaching Channel.

Educators Share What Works

Teachers have put together helpful suggestions. In a post from Choice Literacy, one educator recalls her conference experiences as a divorced parent and offers ways to be sensitive to the concerns of others who are divorced.

"PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCE" written on a sticky note and tacked to a corkboard.

In Part 2 of the Choice Literacy post, middle grades teachers describe how they’ve used student photos to help parents feel comfortable, set up Evernote to collect student materials, and provided kids with questions to consider before the conference. A common theme: Keep it positive. Teacher Aimee Buckner concludes, “Conferences should not be a surprise party of bad news.”

In another Choice Literacy post, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan lay out strategies for presenting several categories of data to parents. Find guidelines for discussion of data for administrators, teachers and parents in English and Spanish in the Harvard Family Research Project’s Tips for Administrators, Teachers, and Families: How to Share Data Effectively. You can hear HFRP’s Heidi Rosenberg, former PTA president Betsy Landers and parenting blogger Susan Heim on the topic in this BAM! radio discussion.

An NEA article collects teachers’ strategies for working through parent anger to achieve the best results for their children. Don’t miss Bill Ferriter’s recommendations at the conclusion.

Principal Peter DeWitt looks at parent-teacher communications in several posts at his EdWeek blog, Finding Common Ground. In one from 2011 he explains why leaving the report card out of conferences can be helpful, allowing time to “focus on student work, portfolios and social emotional issues.” In 2012 DeWitt carries over the current interest on flipping instruction into the realm of parent communication, adding multimedia and other elements to his school’s online contacts with parents. In a later post he shares what he had learned about flipping, noting that a video providing parents with conference basics in advance is a potentially useful flip.

Student Led Conferences

Mother And SonIn another Ed Week post Peter DeWitt recommends arranging Student Led Conferences. He recounts the decades-old history of SLC’s and notes that implementing them in today’s rushed classroom can be time consuming and challenging. After laying out the process, DeWitt comments on the power of SLC’s to engage students.

In a 1996 ASCD Educational Leadership article, you can follow teachers Lyn Le Countryman and Merrie Schroeder as they plan and implement SLC’s for their seventh graders. They include what worked, what didn’t, and how they would adjust the process for the future. You’ll find other useful information about student-led conferences in this Education World article.

Making Families Welcome

How do schools encourage parents and guardians to participate in conferences and become more directly involved in their children’s education? Writing in the New York Times Fashion section, Bruce Feiler delves into Finding the Right Amount of Parental Involvement in School. It turns out helicopter parents aren’t the problem. It’s the 75% who are not involved who can adversely affect student learning. Feiler references the work of Anne T. Henderson, a Senior Consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. For her take on parent engagement, read Boosting Parent Engagement in Schools, a 2011 interview which appeared in NEA Today.

Teachers can focus on parent relationships by reading Babs Freeman-Loftis’ overview of parents’ lives and concerns. She includes recent demographic changes and suggests opportunities to interact with parents in her ASCD Educational Leadership article.


For specific suggestions – for teachers and administrators – to respond to parents’ situations and concerns, read the responses to a brief parent survey from Joe Mazza at Edutopia, and check out his suggestions for meeting parent concerns.

In his 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Acing Parent-Teacher Conferences, Jeffrey Zaslow found some of the same concerns in his conversations with parents and teachers and offers a pre-conference checklist for parents. (Zaslow, co-author with Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture and collaborator with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly on their memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, died in 2012.)

Helping an Individual Person, Student, Business ConceptTo support families with children in inclusion classes during conferences and beyond, our Two Teachers in the Room blogger Elizabeth Stein shares suggestions for co-teachers communicating with parents of students with special needs and parents of gifted children.

To see how entire school districts can reach parents, read a chapter from Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family–School Partnership, a book written by Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, in a version adapted for publication in the Harvard Family Research Project’s Evaluation Exchange.

For more points of view, visit Larry Ferlazzo’s blog Engaging Parents in Schools to look over The Best Resources On Parent/Teacher Conferences with posts from Elena Aguilar, Jessica Lahey, Pernille Ripp, Matt Davis and more.

Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

5 Responses

  1. A great compilation of resources for conferences which can be stressful for parents, teachers and children! Thank you for sharing these.

  2. I taught Spanish for 37 years at Northville (MI) High School. I used student-led conferences for the last 12 years of my teaching career. So productive and so pleasant! I could really see the students’ progress when they had to set goals and make an improvement plan, and then share it with their parents. At the end of the school year they had to re-assess their progress with a take-home conference. I loved it and the students had a complete portfolio of their work to take with them to their next level of language learning. I can’t endorse this method highly enough!

  3. As a substitute teacher for one year I would like to suggest parents are more, let’s say more than 75%, to be involved in classroom activities. This will help the students a lot.

  1. 10/13/2012

    […] Conferences is another good read from the Teacher in a Strange Land. Perfect complement to our Resource Roundup on parent […]

  2. 03/07/2013

    […] Middle Web Parent Teacher Conferences […]

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