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How to Run Family Conferences Like a Pro

You wave at parents/guardians as they drop off their child in the morning and might manage to get in a few words with them at the end of the day. You may even have a phone call here or there. However, there will come a time where you just need to sit down and have a conversation together. That’s where family conferences can come in handy.
A family conference provides the perfect opportunity to:
  • Share the child’s growth and progress
  • Discuss the child’s strengths, needs, behaviors, and learning styles
  • Discuss enriching strategies to support the child’s learning
  • Discuss issues that are interfering with the child’s learning
Whether you’re hosting on your own as a teacher or with the support of an administrator, you will want to have a game plan to make the most out of the meeting. Check out these 5 tips to have you running your family conferences like a pro:
Create a Comfortable Environment
Family conferences have a negative stigma. This can result in the parents/guardians showing up tense, on-edge, or nervous. Show warmth to them and remind them that the purpose of the meeting is to help their child. Or try out an ice breaker. Surely you have a funny or sweet story about their child that can make everyone laugh. And once they’re laughing, they will probably feel a bit more comfortable.
Tip - Be prepared to accommodate for various language or cultural barriers. If you know they only speak Spanish, arrange for a translator to join you. (Google Translate probably won’t work for this kind of situation). It is also important to offer information and/or resources to families in their native language, if possible.
Know Your Stuff
Parents/guardians can be pretty creative when it comes to questions, and sometimes it can seem like they pull the most random ones out of thin air. So, try to come prepared for whatever they throw your way. Have a one-page curriculum summary you can hand out so they can follow along with what their child is learning in the classroom. Also, who says educators don’t have to study? Study up on the child’s file so you can refer back to specific examples of their behavior and development throughout the meeting. It can also be helpful to have samples of the child’s work on hand to refer to (whether it be a worksheet, quiz, or project).
Balance the Negative with Positive
It can be easy to dump a laundry list of concerns in their laps, especially if the main reason for the meeting is talking about the child’s bad behavior. To avoid focusing on the negative, try coming up with an action plan for their success. You can even bury concerns within recommendations, so they sound entirely positive. For example, if a child isn’t listening, you can suggest a helpful exercise and word it like, “try this activity at home to help Jeremy develop strong listening skills.” This method can prevent them becoming defensive about their child’s actions. You don’t want the meeting turning into an argument, or for them to leave feeling upset.
There isn’t a positive way to phrase some things, no matter how hard you try. But coming straight out with the bad news could backfire. This is where the good-bad-good sandwich can be handy. Start by highlighting something positive about their child, then move onto the issue, and finish with another positive statement. For example, “Lauren is showing a lot of creativity, especially when it comes to our tactile learn-and-play center. However, she doesn’t seem to understand how to share with other students. Learning how to share is a huge developmental milestone that will set her up for a lifetime of success, and I know she’ll get there with a little more encouragement at home.”
Communication is Key
The conference is over, and you can finally relax. But this isn’t a one-and-done deal. Make sure the parents/guardians know they can talk to you after the meeting and encourage it. Let them know they can ask questions, provide updates, and express concerns about their child as time goes on. It takes a village to raise a child – including parents/guardians, teachers, and directors – which is why it’s important that your relationship and communication is strong.
If the child’s parents/guardians want to know how they can prepare ahead of time for the conference, consider sending them this incredible article by Scholastic.
It can also be helpful to prepare for family conferences by brushing up on your knowledge of age-related milestones in child development. Our group subscription includes the 1-hour course “Child Development: Milestones from Birth to Age 12” that goes over all of these milestones.