Parent teacher interviews can be one of the most daunting and stressful tasks for a beginning teacher. There’s just so much uncertainty! Are the parents going to be nice? Will they understand why you seat Jessica away from her best friend? Will they be angry that Tim achieved 48% on his last assessment? Maybe they’ll be disappointed that Sarah has slipped from an A to a B grade? Will they agree with your philosophy on homework? Have you been differentiating the work enough to meet Harry’s needs?
Whether you are a first-year teacher who is totally new to parent teacher interviews, or you’re an experienced teacher looking to make the meetings run smoother, there are some simple things you can do to prepare for your parent interviews.
Preparation will help you feel like a more professional, organised teacher and to boost your confidence heading into these meetings, so you can get the most out of the experience. In this article I will share my top tips for teachers going into parent teacher interviews. The advice till be broken up into two sections – things you can do before parent teacher interviews to prepare, and things you can do during parent teacher interviews to ensure they run smoothly. Remember this is an extensive list – don’t panic if you don’t do some of these things! My hope is that you take away 2-3 tips from this list and try them out yourself.
Plus, the good news is they get easier with experience!
The importance of parent teacher interviews
There is no denying that parent teacher interviews are important part of reporting duties. It’s vital that parents of your students understand how their child is progressing in your subject. After all, how are they supposed to support their child’s learning if they don’t know how they’re progressing?
But keep in mind that parent teacher interviews are also a fantastic opportunity for you to learn more about your students. You may find out some strategies they have worked will with a particular student in the past that you can implement in your own classroom. Maybe you’ll discover an interest or hobby the student has that you can work into your lessons to increase engagement. You may learn there are things going on at home that account for a students’ behaviour change. The more you know about your students, the better you can support them in the classroom.
Remember, you and the parent both have the same goal – to see the student achieve to the best of their potential. The objective of these meetings is to figure out how you and the parent can work together to support the student.
What to expect going into parent teacher interviews
Parent teacher interviews will run differently, depending on your school. Some schools will have a parent teacher day, where lessons are cancelled, and you spend the full day meeting with parents. others will have a parent teacher night, where you will teach like normal during the day and stay back to meet with parents in the evening. Some will allow parents to book in for the meetings online, so you will know exactly who you are meeting before the day. And some schools will allow the parents to come in whenever they can throughout the day.
Whatever the format of your parent teacher interviews, it is safe to assume that it will be a long and exhausting day!
Tips for teachers before going into parent teacher interviews
Ensure parents won’t be surprised in their parent teacher interview
Most schools do a good job at communicating this idea – you’ve probably heard the phrase “no surprises!” tossed around at reporting time and it is the very same for parent teacher interviews.
Your parent teacher interviews will run so much smoother if the parent already has an idea of how their student is progressing in your class. You should be in contact with the parents throughout the entire year, not just around reporting and interview time.
If a parent has heard nothing about how their student is doing in your class and only discovers their behaviour issues and failing grades during the parent teacher interview, it’s understandable that they’re going to have questions and won’t be happy.
However, if parents come into your parent teacher interview with an understanding of how their student is progressing, more time can be spent working out how you can both work to support the student and the meeting will be much more productive.
What you can do to avoid surprises:
- Send home letters of concern – I send these after each assessment to ensure I’m keeping on top of them
- Send home letters of commendation – frequently students aren’t rewarded for their good effort and most of our energy is spent dealing with negative behaviour and poor achievement, letters of commendation can help win over both students and parents
- Email updates – send a class email out notifying parents of upcoming assessment
- Parent phone calls – these are time consuming, but for significant issues keep parents updated with a quick call home
Plan for easy lessons the following day
Unless you are a superhuman you’re going to be absolutely exhausted after parent teacher interviews. Extra points if you taught all day prior to your meetings. Keep this in mind when preparing for the following day and go easy on yourself when it comes to lesson planning. If there was ever a day that justified watching documentaries or having students work from the textbook this is it!
As we established you are going to be tired! And for me personally, there’s nothing worse than being tired and hungry. Plan for this and pack extra snacks. Think low GI foods that will keep you energised for longer. Plan snacks that are easy to grab between meetings – think muesli bar over hot meal.
Plan your teacher outfit to look professional to feel confident
It sounds like common sense, but I once witnessed a teacher showing up to parent teacher day wearing board shorts! I get it, in the day-to-day of teaching I’m all about comfortable, practical clothing – sneakers over heels! But you’ll want to step it up a notch for parent teacher interviews.
The best clothing for teachers heading into parent teacher interviews will be an outfit that helps you convey authority and professionalism. If you look you look the part you’ll feel way more confident.
Tips for teachers during parent teacher interviews
Remember: you are the professional
Nervous heading into your parent teacher night? Take a deep breath and remember you are in charge of the parent teacher meeting – you are the professional. I personally suffer from imposter syndrome big time. Particularly in my first year I felt totally unqualified to be giving the parent advice on how their child was progressing. But guess what? I wasn’t unqualified and neither are you. We’ve completed our degree/s, we’re experts in education and we have practical experience working with their child. You are qualified to be making professional judgements.
Remember the parent is most likely also nervous. Some parents may not have stepped foot in a school for years. Being on school grounds may bring back all sorts of positive and negative feelings for the parent. They normally won’t know the layout of the school and have to navigate the new environment. They may be nervous about their Childs’ performance and anticipating difficult conversations. Just be aware and empathetic of the parent.
Take breaks between parent teacher interviews
Hopefully you have the opportunity to take breaks throughout the session – take them! And don’t just sit at your desk and use your laptop, get up and walk outside. The fresh air, movement and time out of the formal environment will help energise you.
Greet parents confidently
Okay, where finally at the point where you’re meeting the parent and first impressions count. Start by addressing the parent in a friendly, professional and confident manner. As they’re approaching your desk stand up and smile at them. Shake their hand, say hello and introduce yourself. This will set the tone for the rest of your meeting.
Plan out a parent teacher interview ‘script’ to begin and guide your meeting
Heading into my first parent teacher interview I was so nervous that I wouldn’t know what to say and there would be awkward silences. Guess what? A lot of parents feel the same way too! Taking some time to plan out a parent teacher interview script, or at the very least a set of questions you can fall back on will help you feel more confident and prepared.
Normally, you will be driving the parent teacher meeting. Once again, you are the professional in this situation – this is your domain. I find it helpful to have a parent teacher interview script to start the meeting and guide it. Personally, I start all parent teacher meetings by asking “How is [student] finding [year level]?”. This is a particularly useful question for students who are new to the school or have started a new phase of their schooling. By starting with this question, I will normally find out some useful information about my students. Perhaps a year 7 student is struggling with the class changes or a new ATAR student is finding the increased workload to be a challenge. It’s great to find out how the student is going as a whole.
Some other questions you can ask in a parent teacher interview:
- How is Tim settling into high school?
- How is Tim going in other subject areas?
- Does Tim enjoy Science?
- Are there any strategies that you know of that have worked well for Tim previously?
- What does Tim like doing outside of school?
- How is Tim coping with the increased workload?
For each of my meetings I use a parent teacher interview template to create a simple report on student progress to help guide the conversation:
Prepare hard-copy materials to help guide the parent meeting
Next, you’ll want to steer the conversation towards how the student is progressing in your class. I find the easiest way to do this is to use a parent teacher interview template to create a simple report on the students’ achievement in class. Having a hard-copy of this report helps my parent meetings flow, as it generally contains all the information I wish to convey to the parent, and talking through it helps guide the conversation. If you’re going to take one tip away from this article let it be this!
It takes extra preparation and is only possible to do if you have parents booked in before the day, but a simple report helps guide the conversation. You can download my parent teacher interview template for free by joining the mailing list below.
The report is the backbone of my meetings I talk through it in this order:
- Summary of the topics we have covered so far
- Summary of student achievement on their assessment
- Upcoming assessment
- Two areas the student is achieving well in (this could be academic, social or behavioural behavioural achievement)
- One area for improvement
Plus, creating a simple report for the parents gives them something concrete to take away with them and makes you seem super prepared and professional!
Some examples of other materials you may want to prepare and bring to your paerent teacher meetings include:
- Student file: a copy of each assessment the student has completed
- Work samples: de-identified examples of assessments that can be used to show A,B and C level grade work, etc.
- Copies of the course outline and assessment schedule to handout
Take notes during your meetings
Parent teacher nights can be busy, exhausting and stressful! You may learn some important strategies that could support a student in your class, or a particular interest a student has that could be used to engage them in your lessons. You don’t want to forget this valuable information so take notes!
Keep an eye on the time and have a strategy to wrap up conversation
We all know time management is an important strategy for teachers! You can read my time management tips for teacher story for more great time management advice. Parents can get caught up in these meetings and you will likely have a schedule to stick to. Ensure you keep an eye on the time and are able to wrap up a meeting if needed. To wrap up my interviews, I simply use the phrases “It’s been lovely talking to you, but my next meeting is here”, or “It’s been lovely to talk to you but my next meeting will be here in a minute”.
Have a plan for handling escalations
Finally, you may have heard some parent teacher interview horror stories. Parents who have become upset, angry or aggressive at teachers during interviews. Personally, I have had to have some difficult conversations with parents but 99% of them have been positive experiences where I have learned something. But there is always the possibility of escalation.
Try to avoid escalations. If you have experience in a classroom you are likely an expert on behaviour. Teachers are great at recognising signs of escalation in students so you will likely be able to tell if a parent is becoming upset as well. Signs like increased volume, talking rapidly, jittering, face going red.
If you notice these signs of escalation, it is important to first show the parent you are listening and trying to understand their point of view. Listen to their concerns, nod your head as they speak and repeat their concerns back to show you are trying to understand. When people become upset, most of the time they just want to feel that their concerns are heard. Try to see the situation from the parents’ point of view and and try to offer some solutions if possible (but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver).
If an escalation occurs, try to stay calm, don’t get defensive and definitely don’t enter into an argument with a parent. If an escalation cannot be avoided it is important to seek support. You shouldn’t have to deal with verbal (or physical) abuse. If this happens, calmly stop the interview and tell the parent they can continue it with your line manager.
For more tips on dealing handling escalations, check out the Forbes article, 7 Steps for Dealing with Angry Customers. But instead of customers, think parents.
There you have my best parent teacher interview tips for teachers! hope you’ll try some of these tips and head into your parent teacher meetings with confidence. Do you have any questions about parent teacher interviews? Perhaps you are an experienced teacher with more advice for new teachers?
If you’re looking for more strategies you can implement into your classroom check out my other tips for teachers.