As a teacher, you have such an important job. You are spending 8+ hours teaching a classroom of young minds. But, we all know that the job goes far beyond simply teaching. With a job this important, it is inevitable that you will run into some tricky situations that will ultimately lead to difficult conversations with parents.
Although it will never be easy to tell a parent their child is failing or that their behavior isn’t changing, it is crucial to keep an open line of communication with parents. You are a team in their child’s education and ultimately you both (parents and teachers) want what is best for their student.
Here are my 10 best tips for having difficult conversations with parents
1. Be Prepared
Clearly state what the specific issue or concern is. The more concrete you can be, the better.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with any relevant academic data, and student work before the conference so that you can address the concerns with confidence.
For behavioral concerns be sure to familiarize yourself with notes and observations you have previously documented.
Encourage the parent to share their concerns, and actively listen to what they have to say. This shows that you value their input and are invested in finding a solution.
Although it can be difficult, it’s helpful to listen to the words the parent is saying rather than their tone. I always remind myself that it’s a stressful situation for the parents as well. No one likes to hear unfortunate information about their children.
3. Stay Professional
Regardless of the situation, maintain a professional demeanor and avoid getting defensive or emotional. Stay focused on facts and what you have observed.
If the meeting gets out of hand or if you feel uncomfortable at any time, it’s okay to professionally end the meeting and reschedule with your administration.
4. Use “I” Statements
Speak from your experience in terms of your own thoughts and feelings rather than blaming or accusing the parent. “I” is less accusatory than “you”.
For example, instead of saying “You are not doing enough to help your child,” say “I am concerned that _______ may need additional support at home.”
5. Focus on the Student
Keep the conversation focused on the student and what is best for their education and growth.
Avoid making it personal. It’s important to be as objective as possible.
Being objective might sound like, “ I have noticed _______. Or I feel/ think/observe/ believe___.
6. Be Open-Minded
During any difficult conversation with parents, be willing to hear and consider the parent’s perspective, and look for common ground.
7. Offer Solutions
When addressing a concern, offer concrete suggestions for how to address the issue. Express what you would like to see happen or the outcome you would like to work toward.
Ask the parent how they see the solution or outcome you’ve suggested and what their thoughts are.
Brainstorm options and ideas for how to achieve the outcome or implement the solution you and the parent wish to see.
8. Keep Confidentiality in Mind
Before, during, and after a difficult conversation with parents it’s important to maintain confidentiality.
Avoid discussing sensitive information without permission, such as sharing other students’ names during the meeting or venting to a co-teacher after the conversation.
After the conference, arrange a time to follow up on the conversation via the preferred and agreed-upon communication method.
Touch base with the parent to talk about progress being made, or anything that hasn’t been resolved with the issue. This is also a time when you can offer additional support.
10. Communicate Often
The difficult conversation should NOT be the first time you talk to the parents. It’s crucial (and so very helpful) to keep an open line of communication year-round.
If you notice Student A struggled on this week’s spelling test, send a quick Dojo message to Mom asking if there is anything you can do to help.
If Student B continues to display the same unwanted behavior, reach out to see if the parents have any suggestions (before it becomes a major problem).
Even better, reach out to share positives. This will help build rapport with your parents so that they trust and respect you when you do have some difficult information to share.
Difficult Conversations with Parents Recap
When having a difficult conversation with a parent, the goal is to create a positive change.
If you are unsure of how to handle a difficult conversation, reach out to a mentor, your administrator, or a colleague for guidance and support.
Managing difficult conversations with parents is challenging for new and veteran teachers alike, but by following the above tips, you will most definitely feel more prepared and confident.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful as you plan your parent-teacher conferences this year. If you have teacher friends who would benefit from this article, go ahead and share it with them!
Do you need help with parent-teacher conferences?
As part of our back-to-school series for new (and veteran) teachers, this post on How to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences is extremely helpful. Inside the article is step-by-step guidance on how to prepare for conference time, where to get editable conference forms, and a free printable checklist to help you get started. While you’re there, download the free parent brochures too!
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