Plan now to stay in touch with parents about what’s going on in your class. Keeping them informed will make it easier to talk with them during conferences automatically scheduled by your school or requested by you or by the parent. You’ll have a common language to begin conversations. Let them know your general syllabus along with grading guidelines, but weekly assignment sheets must supersede the printed syllabus because you will be adjusting assignments based on formative assessments indicating student learning.
RESPONDING TO E-MAIL
It is vital to guard your personal time. Let parents know that you only will be responding to email during specific hours.
Keep to those hours and parents/guardians more likely will honor that time and not expect responses all day every day. I’d recommend a specific time during the school day, and then sending no responses to parents after 7 p.m. This does not mean you cannot read and write responses. But since email is time stamped, recipients can tell when email is sent and therefore can assume you’re willing to communicate anytime.
Whenever possible avoid meeting with parents in the absence of the student. There are two benefits. First, the student will see that the adults in his/her educational life are working together for his/her benefit. Second, the parents are likely to be more respectful of you with their child present.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULED BY SCHOOL
Prepare for conference with complete records and artifacts of the student’s work. Even if you’ve been posting grades on line, have print-out of student record and sample of student’s work. (Technology may not work that day.) Invite the student to lead the conference by articulating what has been taught/learned so far and then showing the parent his/her work. Invite parent’s questions. Allow student to answer first. Then, ask “What can we do to help you, the student maintain or improve your learning by the end of the school year?” Listen. Agree as often as integrity allows. Stand and end conference, with thanks for parent’s interest. Thank student, too.
CONFERENCE REQUESTED BY PARENT
A valuable lesson I learned early in my career is to listen first, then speak. Parents generally wait until they are very upset before making an appointment to talk with the teacher. They have lots on their minds are are not likely to listen until they’ve had their say. Let them. It’s surprising what you learn during a tirade. If the child
is present, the language may be curbed, but still enter the conference ready to hear what’s on the parent’s mind. Then, invite the student to have his/her say. Next, ask the parent “And what do you want me to do?” Turn to the student and ask, “Does this sound fair?” Generally, insisting that the student be present makes for more productive, successful conferences for all involved.
When you believe the conference will be difficult, do not hesitate to invite your department chair or administrator to sit in. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It is part of their job to assure that you are safe, that parents are heard, and that students learn. If neither superior member of the faculty or staff can attend, invite a colleague to join you. Sometimes an observer will notice and hear something that will help you improve relations and better teach the students you are assigned to teach this school year.
By all means, continue communicating regularly, but on your terms as much as possible. You’re a professional and as such have earned the right to be respected, heard, and supported. Guard your time, include students, and ask for help when needed.