Teachers must utilize effective relationships with parents to maintain effective educational practices with each student. Effective Teacher-Parent Relationships are characterized by:
- A partnership based model.
- Shared values and goals, with the parent and the teacher agreeing on the desired outcomes of the education along with the academic path that will be most effective.
- Mutual respect for time and expertise. Communication between teachers and parents is most effective when both people have an equal voice in the shared goals for the student along with an appreciation for the amount of time that either can attribute to the academic or social progress of the student.
- Mutual accommodations to compensate for deficiencies on either side of the relationship. For example, a teacher may benefit from providing a translator to the parent of an English Language Learner (ELL) student and a parent may benefit from providing relevant developmental information and history about the student that the teacher would not otherwise know.
- Regular communication from both the teacher and the parent so that the partnership can be ongoing rather than exclusive to a crisis or intervention.
Conferences with parents are an essential tool for effective communication between parents and teachers. These conferences happen in a variety of formats and are essential to developing positive relationships that are focused on the academic and social growth of the student in question. Conferences may or may not include the student. However, it is a best practice to bring the element of student voice to the conference, regardless of the student being in attendance. The two most common formats of a conference are casual and formal.
Casual Conferences occur spontaneously. Characterized by informal meetings, these conferences may occur at school, on the phone, or even in the broader community setting (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Research shows that frequent, early, and positive communication from teachers to parents is a consistently effective way to build productive partnerships between parents and teachers (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).
Formal Scheduled Conferences typically have an intended purpose. These purposes can include, but are not limited to, an academic check-in to evaluate student strengths and challenges, an academic intervention to address specific student challenges, and academic assessment of learning abilities to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). All three types can occur commonly. Addressing general academic strengths and challenges is a good practice for every student. Interventions are more effective when both the parents and the teachers agree on the purpose, plan, and goals of the intervention; which is why a conference can be valuable. Also, developing an IEP must include input from the parent of the student so that, like an intervention, the purpose, plan, and goals of the IEP are clear and agreed upon (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).
When preparing for a conference the teacher must allow for ample time for the conference to occur. At a minimum conferences last 30 minutes when everyone involved has time to participate in the discussion. However, the teacher must also respect time restraints so that the conference does not last too long and create a scheduling conflict for any of the participants.
Parents can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable around teachers and other education professionals due to their own experiences in education (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Teachers should be advised to create a family centered environment so that families are comfortable at the school (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).
Parents may have their own concerns about their relationships with a teacher, in addition to the experiences of their child (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998) and may have either a positive or negative impression of teachers because teachers can be seen as self-appointed “experts” (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013); when this occurs communication becomes a teacher monologue, rather than a dialogue between teachers and parents (Guo, 2010). One way to avoid this is to approach the meeting from a team-building perspective.
In part because of this perceived monologue effect, teachers must be aware of their potential attitudes toward parents; this is especially important when the parent comes from a different demographic (cultural, economic, geographic, etc.) than the teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).
Some of the issues that teachers may encounter, when addressing demographic differences, are:
- The concept of family and family roles.
- Expectations for student behavior.
- Expectations of teacher behavior.
- Expectations of parent involvement.
- Socio-economic resources, especially as they apply to schoolwork that occurs outside of the home.
Of particular note are parents that speak little or no English. One of the greatest under-represented cultural demographics in school communities is that of ELL parents (Guo, 2010). These parents need to have a translator present at the meetings; the school should provide a translator as a part of creating an accessible and fair education for every student. The translator can provide a comfortable and welcoming element to the meeting in addition to explaining school specific content that is culturally contained, such as what Social Studies or Science may courses include (Guo, 2010). Without a translator the teacher risks alienating the parent and consequently eliminating any potential supports that could occur outside of school.
In a formal conference setting, the teacher must also work to ensure the physical comfort of all participants. The physical arrangement of the conference can facilitate or inhibit the progress made in addition to the relationship between parent and teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). The area must be comfortable for adult sized bodies, maintain privacy and confidentiality, include a seating arrangement that is non-hierarchical, and a seating arrangement that is focused on eye contact without physical barriers between participants (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). One common seating arrangement is with adult sized chairs placed in a circle.
Student Portfolios in Conferences are an excellent way to exhibit student work, academic progress, and engage student voice. By integrating a student portfolio into the conference the conversation can be targeted to a qualitative and quantitative discussion (Juniewicz, 2003). Avoiding the litany of summative assessment scores, a qualitative discussion can highlight student achievement and student weaknesses in a non-confrontational way. While it does require teachers to assist in the creation of the portfolios, it can be student-centered. If implemented early in the school year, students can be held accountable for maintaining a student portfolio that is kept in the classroom. The student should be instructed to include work that features their strengths, academic growth, and academic challenges. It should be noted that parent reactions to a portfolio-based conference will vary. Some parents will assert that the qualitative description from their child is extremely helpful for their understanding of their child’s academic abilities. Other parents will complain that the conference does not allow for private communication between teacher and parent (Juniewicz, 2003).
While teacher and parent schedules are busy, it is a best practice to utilize multiple conferences throughout the year, in both formal and informal formats. In doing so, the lines of communication will not be limited to a single meeting and the relative accumulation of data will give both teachers, parents, and students a valid and reliable interpretation of the student’s academic standing. Teachers should remember that parent communication is an essential part of effective education.
Gregory A. Cheatham & Michaelene M. Ostrosky (2013). Goal Setting During Early Childhood Parent-Teacher Conferences: A Comparison of Three Groups of Parents, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 27:2, 166-189
Guo, Y. (2010). Meetings Without Dialogue: A Study of ESL Parent-Teacher Interactions at Secondary School Parents’ Nights. (Undetermined). School Community Journal, 20(1), 121 – 140.
Jordan, L., Reyes-Blanes, M. E. Peel, B. B., Peel, H. A., & Lane, H. B. (1998). Developing teacher-parent partnerships across cultures:.. Intervention in School & Clinic, 33(3), 141.
Juniewicz, K. (2003). Student Portfolios with a Purpose, Clearing House, 77(2), 73-77.