Here is PART 2 on having a successful parent-teacher conference from professional educator and interview coach, Charlie Margolis. (You can read PART 1 here, if you haven’t already). Below are more tips for teachers …
Be a Diplomat
I recall a mother who called me to see if her son had turned-in his term project. “I would do it for him, if I could, if I could,” she said. I asked her how that would serve her child. Parents can definitely be overly protective, defensive and downright antagonistic. As far as I am concerned, no parent has the right to abuse a teacher. With that said, it is incumbent on the teacher to defuse and deflect possible areas of conflict. Oftentimes, a parent’s reaction has nothing to do with the teacher or the classroom. Unfortunately, some people carry baggage from their school years. Be a diplomat. Try to avert potential conflict by listening for the meaning behind the words. Bend like the willow and try not to take overly assertive behavior personally.
Listening Conveys Respect
When I began writing poetry, my mentor would close her eyes, place her face in her hands – like she was praying – and give me her undivided attention. That is probably the reason I am still writing. There is a difference between hearing and listening. The greatest sign of respect one person can show to another is to listen. Teachers are trained to deliver information and facilitate learning. There is a great deal to be learned from listening. It says, “What you think is important to me.” By selectively paraphrasing what you hear – active listening – you can test whether or not what you heard is what the parent intended. To make parents feel like they are valued, solicit their input and listen to what they have to say.
What a Parent Needs to Know
If you are about to undergo surgery, you need to know what the doctor is going to do. You do not need to know precisely how the physician will do it. What a parent wants and needs to know are not always the same. Parents want to know that you genuinely like their child. Parents entrust their children to the teacher for the better part of a day. They want to be familiar with what their children are expected to learn and how they are progressing. As I teach my interview clients, a story has far greater impact than talking in abstractions. So, give concrete examples, using narratives, actual examples of work and grades to demonstrate how the child is progressing.
Set Achievable Goals
When I am preparing an individual for an interview, the first thing I do is ask all kinds of questions. His/her responses give me insight and information about what motivates that individual. Sometimes, I actually repeat what they have told me and they are surprised to hear it. Teachers and parents share the similar goals for students. It is the job of the teacher to make expectations – academic and social – clear to the parent. It is important to acknowledge parental concerns, even if they seem extraneous. As a teacher, you are the expert on education. In partnership, parents and teachers can set goals that are achievable and optimize growth.
Join the Team
I think UCONN women’s head basketball coach, Geno Auriemma is a great teacher. He is demanding, but always strives to get the best from his players. In my estimation, they are perfect models of the student/athlete. School is like the UCONN women’s basketball team. There are the coaches and the players. Each has a role. Success requires collaboration between parents, teachers and the school. What seems to have been lost, in the current rhetoric about No Child Left Behind and failing schools, is the fact that every child has to actively participate in the educational process. All the cajolery, incentives and “authentic” teaching will be ineffective unless the child assumes responsibility for learning. Like the basketball players, they have to work hard in every practice. By framing the parent/teacher conference as a team effort, everyone wins.
Charlie’s Helpful Hint
Hold a cup of your favorite hot beverage – coffee, tea, hot chocolate – with two hands just prior to you parent/teacher conference. Research indicates that doing this will result in a more positive response to the people you are going to see!
If you have questions, thoughts or an experience to share, please respond in our comments section or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you!
Charlie is Executive Director of Interview Image Associates, LLC. The firm specializes in preparing political candidates, pageant contestants, job aspirants and college applicants for interviews, speeches and presentations.