Parent Teacher Conference Ideas and Tips for Teachers

Photo of student self-portraits from two times in the year. Text says: Parent Teacher Conference Tips and Tricks.

Get great parent teacher conference ideas and tips in this blog. You will learn what parents want to know and what work samples will help parents better understand their child’s progress.

When I think of parent teacher conferences, lot of things come to mind: long days, lots of preparation, and the opportunity to learn more about the children I spend my days with. I truly LOVE parent teacher conferences, despite the amount of work involved. I find it rewarding to share a child’s growth with their parents, and explain their child’s next steps in their learning path. In this post I share some of my favorite parent teacher conference ideas with you.

Before we start, let’s take a minute to think about the parent perspective on conferences…

What are parents looking for?

I’ve been on the teacher side of the conference table for over 25 years and on the parent side of the table for 15 years. I can have noticed that parents want to know that 

  • you know their child
  • you like their child
  • their child has friends
  • their child is learning 

in that order.

Are there parents who are exceptions to this? Of course. But the vast majority of parents (especially in the primary grades) want to make sure that their child has a sense of belonging at school. Keep this in mind as you use the following parent teacher conference ideas.

Want to know what’s on parents’ minds before conferences begin?

Send them a survey. A single sheet of paper (or simple Google form) gives parents the chance to share their thoughts and concerns with you before they walk through the door for parent teacher conferences.

You might ask some of the following questions:

  • What is going well for your child this year?
  • What is one goal you have for your child? (social emotional, academic)
  • Do you have any additional concerns at this time? (or Is there anything else you’d like to discuss about your child?)
  • (optional) Please share any other important information you’d like me to know before the conference.

This allows you to know what is on a parent’s mind before the conference begins. It will also give you the chance to pay a bit more attention to an area of concern, if needed. For instance, if a parent is concerned that their child is playing alone during recess/choice time, you can observe those interactions before their conference begins.

What should I show parents at conferences?

Of course, parent teacher conferences are a time to tell a parent about their child’s learning. But, this learning is easier to understand when you also have things to show parents – plus, it takes parents’ eyes off you for a while!

Self-portraits

It can be fun to start off the conference by showing a self-portrait and name-writing sample from the first week of school, and a more recent sample. You can use this cute FREE form several times a year to show growth. Teaching young children, it always amazes me how much their drawing and writing can change in a short period of time!

Photos from first day of school and end of year to show growth in a student's writing and drawing skills.

Writing Samples

You might also show writing samples from the beginning of the year, compared to more recent writing samples. In preschool or kindergarten, these samples might be work samples from student “book-making.” (New to book-making with kids. A Teacher’s Guide to Getting Started with Beginning Writers is a great place to learn more!) Parents will be amazed at their child’s growth!

Photo of a student's writing sample shown at conferences. Student writing says, "I think that her favorite animal is a dog."

Sometimes teachers like to collect several writing samples a year and put them into a writing portfolio. For early learners, you could use monthly writing prompts, like those in this memory book and portfolio. Students will still use “kid-writing” to share their thoughts, but the sentence starters will help family members understand what the child was writing more easily.

Photo of a portfolio page for parent teacher conferences. Child drew food following a prompt about what he was thankful for.

With older students, you can show a writing sample from a recent writing unit. Use the student writing sample to show what a child is currently doing as they write, as well as what the next steps are for this child. Some examples include:

Joey does a great job getting his reader’s attention at the beginning of his writing piece. See how he… Next I’m going to help Joey add more details to his writing. For instance, he might tell the reader where to fold the paper airplane, maybe even showing it in his illustration.

Maggie has gotten so good at writing beginning and ending sounds for words. I’m starting to read some of her writing without her help. Now we will work on adding spaces between words, since she’s beginning to write sentences instead of just labels. That will also make her reading easier to read.

Sample Reading Materials

You can also show an example of the type of book that the child is reading with you during small group instruction. Point out a few of the features of this type of book (ex: beginning to include dialogue, several lines of text on each page, characters are becoming more complex). Sometimes simply seeing books the child can currently read helps parents better understand their child’s progress.

Also, describe the helpful reading behaviors their child uses, as well as a next step for reading. These behaviors could relate to concepts about print, comprehension or word solving.

Math Work Samples 

Similarly, you can show math work samples at parent teacher conferences. With young students, these samples might be number writing samples, drawing number representations, or creating patterns with paper squares. You can repeat the same activity several times a year to demonstrate growth in understanding. These can be added to the monthly memory book and portfolio, along with the writing samples and self-portraits.

Photo of 3 different samples of number writing from different times in the school year. These pages can easily show growth at parent conferences.

For older students, you can use recently solved open-ended problem (for instance: There are 20 kids in the class. Four kids can sit at each table. How many tables do they need?) Show parents how their child solved the problem. Help parents see how you look not only for the correct answer, but also how the child solved the problem.

Should I share tests?

If you share test scores with parents, it is important to help parents understand what these scores mean. Are you concerned that the child skipped 15 when counting, or is that normal for this stage of learning? Does D mean nearly failing, or does it mean the child is developing an understanding of the skill? When you look at how the child did on the test, what are you most excited about? What do you notice that needs the most support? These are things that are not always clear when looking only at the test score.

What should I say to parents? 

Win parents over by starting with something positive about their child – tell a little story or describe a trait you love about their child.

As you move into conversations about social-emotional development and academic performance, continue to start with positives. Describe things the child does well, or ways the child has improved so far this year. Then explain the next learning goals for the child (whether this is an area that needs additional support, or is simply what the class will learn next.) Check out sample language for this conversation in this blog post about what to say at parent teacher conferences.

Be sure to end the conference on a positive note, as well. You might wrap up by reiterating something the child does well, or telling parents how much you enjoy having the child in your class and why.

By highlighting positive traits about their child, you will help parents lower their defenses in the conference. This will allow them to better hear any concerns you might bring up. They realize you are able to see more than just the difficult parts with their child. (Let me tell you, being a parent is a vulnerable job!)

So as you prepare for conferences, focus on the positive – the positive traits of your students and the positive social-emotional and academic behaviors. Use what the child currently knows and can do to set the next learning goals for the child. (This blog post includes a form to help you organize your parent teacher conference ideas – your celebrations and next steps for each child.) Taking a bit of time to plan what you will say at conferences, and what you will show, will help you to WOW the parents every time!

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