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10 Tips for Effective Parent Teacher Conferences

Maria Kampen

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Parent teacher conferences are a milestone event in the school year. But big class sizes and small time windows (plus virtual learning) means you have to be strategic to make the most of them. 

We’ve put together a list of 10 ways you can make your parent teacher conferences more effective this year. Learning is a process, and it doesn’t just happen in the classroom. When parents are involved in their child’s learning, student success soars.

Key benefits of parent teacher conferences (and what to watch out for)

Man shaking hand of woman from across a desk.

Parent teacher conferences can be a lot of work to prepare for, but you’ve probably seen the benefits firsthand:

Increases communication between home and school

Parent teacher conferences give parents and teachers a chance to build connections they’ll use throughout the rest of the school year. A productive conference helps you develop a partnership with parents to ensure all your students have the support they need at school and at home. 

Motivates parents to help

Parents want to see their child succeed, but don’t have the same insights into the learning process you do. During the parent teacher conference, you can give them concrete ways and resources to support their child’s learning at home. 

Gives you valuable insights

In the same way, you don’t know what challenges students are facing at home that impact their learning. Meeting with parents can uncover new challenges and you can work together to solve them.

Discuss test results and learning supports

There’s so much more to your students than the report cards they bring home a few times a year. Without context, it’s difficult for parents to understand learning and support them. Use parent teacher conferences to give additional context and discuss the status of IEPs, 504s and other learning supports. 

While there are plenty of benefits to holding regular parent teacher conferences, they can also work against equity in the classroom

Parents working shift jobs or even multiple jobs aren’t always able to make time to attend, even if they want to.

It’s important to make sure you connect with all your students’ parents, even if it means adjusting some of your regular procedures and offering alternate times to meet — physically or virtually.

Keep reading for tips on holding effective parent teacher conferences that are accessible for every parent or guardian!

Free Parent Teacher conference form download

When it comes to parent teacher conferences, preparation makes a huge difference. We’ve put together a package of parent teacher conference forms you can download and print off to use during your meetings! 

Whether it’s keeping track of talking points, building a student portfolio or sending home insights with parents, use these forms to stay organized and make this year’s parents teacher conferences a success.

Use these resources to run effective conferences that boost learning at home and at school 💪

Top 10 tips for a productive parent teacher conference

Being proactive helps you get the most out of parent teacher conferences, whether you’re holding them in person or virtually this year. 

Krystin and Erin, two teachers who work at Prodigy developing the educational content your students see in-game, offered us their tips for before, during and after parent teacher conferences!

Plus, we asked teachers in Prodigy’s Champions Club for their best suggestions to share with you. 

Love using Prodigy in your classroom? Join Champions Club to access a community of teachers just like you and:

  • Swap Prodigy tips and tricks
  • Complete challenges and earn fun rewards 
  • Access exclusive classroom resources and tournaments

Before the conference

Man sits at desk and makes notes in a notebook in front of a computer.

Preparation is half the battle — so here are some tips to help you get ready for the big day!

Want to learn how Prodigy can help you collect student insights and connect classroom learning with at-home play? Find out how to use Prodigy for parent teacher conferences here, then sign up for your free account to get started!

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1. Send informative invitations

Before you do anything else, let parents know when, where and why parent teacher conferences are happening

When you send out invites, make sure parents know it’s important, and choose a variety of times so all parents can make it, regardless of their work schedule. 

Krystin recommends sending home more than just an invite:

“From a prepping perspective, I sent home an interview sheet one to two weeks ahead of time so parents could share some of the main things they wanted to chat with me about. This allowed me to prep specific content I knew parents would want to discuss as well — and limited surprises!”

2. Prep your notes

Go through your class list and think about each student:

  • Where have they improved?
  • How can their parents support them at home? 
  • What challenges do they still need to address?

Go beyond academic requirements and consider how well they interact with their peers, or how they’re developing social skills.

You never want to jump straight into the negatives at the start of a parent teacher conference. Starting with a positive story about something a student accomplished or an anecdote about how they’ve grown during the year helps build trust and collaboration with parents. 

Don’t rely on your memory, either — make quick notes you can reference for every student, even if it’s just a few points.

“To avoid committing to specific ‘grade-type’ ratings like a report card would, I had a one-page traffic light-style visual that showed students’ progress on all the subject areas students were working through, including social-emotional, communication and organization,” says Krystin. “Parents really loved this as a quick reference guide and it helped guide discussions that were the most impactful within the 15 minutes we had!”

Lindsay G., a classroom teacher, says:

“Parent teacher conferences can be rough, but the best way to prepare is to have all the information you need to share in front of you so you don’t forget anything. Look for the positives and how parents can work to help their students with this difficult learning schedule.”

3. Send reminders

You’re busy, and so are parents. Be sure to send home reminders two or three days ahead of the conference with the date and time parents signed up for. 

Also consider sending home copies of any student materials you want to discuss or questions you have for them. Parent teacher conferences aren’t a good time for surprises — for you or parents!

If you know there are parents in your class whose first language isn’t English, do your best to have translators and translated materials available for them to use. Just because you don’t speak the same language, doesn’t mean you can’t communicate about their child’s progress.

During the parent teacher conference

Two women sit across from a table talking to each other, with a pile of notes and a pen in between them.

While you’re in the conference, use these tips to help you stay on track and keep discussions productive. 

4. Give concrete examples

For every conference, come prepared with student work. Use it to show parents how a student is learning and growing, and where they still need to do more. Krystin says:

“It’s important to have work samples across the different learning areas for parents to see. I used to get my students to create a portfolio throughout each semester, putting in their favorite work and tests so a little portfolio was already set to go for each interview, or when parents just came by my classroom.”

When it comes to giving parents feedback on areas of improvement, don’t sandwich challenges between forcefully positive comments.

Instead, focus on the problem and how it impacts the student’s learning. Be clear about where, why and how it’s happening, then immediately work with parents and build positive solutions to address it. 

If you use a learning management system, leverage it for your conferences! Kelli G., first grade teacher and tech integration coach, recommends:

“I use Seesaw with my kids. During our Google Meet conferences, I share their child’s Seesaw portfolio as evidence of their learning. It’s an easy way to show parents the evidence for each standard.”

5. Stay on topic, clear and positive

It’s easy to get sidelined with off-topic questions, small details and distractions when you’re talking to parents. 

Make a point of staying on topic and focusing on your classroom requirements. It can be difficult for parents to hear negative feedback about their child. Remember, you’re here to help your students succeed — focus on how you can work together to support their child. 

Avoid teacher jargon so parents understand what you’re trying to say. Stay professional and focused on the student, and don’t let the conversation get sidetracked into comparing one student to another. 

6. Pay attention to time

So many parents, so little time. Since you only have a few minutes with each parent, it’s important to stick to the schedule.

Consider building buffer time into your schedule to pick up slack… or don’t! 

“Timing is super important because — at least in my board — interviews were only 15 minutes long. Leaving a time slot open in the middle helped in case any interviews went long or if I needed a quick water break!” — Erin
“Opposite to Erin, I stopped having any buffer time — but that was intentional! Often, the buffer time was used up by parents who generally consumed a lot of air time in and out of parent teacher conferences with emails and unannounced classroom drop-ins. I had a clock intentionally placed behind the parent areas so I could easily peek and stay on time. Bathroom breaks are a must, though!” — Krystin

Even if you’re meeting virtually, time management is still key:

“Enable the waiting room feature in Zoom. This helps let you know when your next parent is ready to meet, and keeps anyone from interrupting your conference.” — Joseph R., first grade teacher

Whatever your approach, make sure to respect everyone’s time and stick to a firm schedule. 

7. Make next steps together

Parent teacher conferences are just a first step in a partnership that lasts the entire school year. Use this time to talk about how parents and families can support learning at home, whether it’s:

  • Developing key social emotional skills
  • Reading books together before bedtime
  • Working through tricky math concepts together
“Many parents would ask what they could be doing at home to support their child’s learning, so I liked to have some suggestions of family activities that support math and literacy development.” — Erin

To make sure the conversation keeps going, send home a list of recommended activities and areas to work on, plus some quick notes on what you all discussed. 

“In order to make the most of our conference time, I had prepped things for them to takeaway as well so they felt they had information and closure at the end of our time together.” — Krystin

Distance learning brings specific challenges for students, teachers and families, so you might spend some time discussing how to support learning in these unusual times. Katie W., 4th grade teacher, says:

“This year, I focused more on discussing how to help their child with distance learning. We were in person for the first 12 weeks and have just recently gone fully remote. I wanted parents to understand how important it is for students to continue working hard to prevent learning loss.”

8. Try using student-led conferences

Student-led conferences alter the traditional form of parent teacher conferences and bring in a key stakeholder: the students themselves. 

It’s an opportunity for students to reflect on their progress so far and work with teachers and parents to build a plan for future progress. Plus, parents get to see their child’s learning in action and it encourages student self-reflection!

Although they’re great for students of all ages, they’re especially useful when it comes to setting learning and development goals with middle school and high school students. 

When students feel invested in the learning process, they’re more likely to develop a growth mindset as they work to achieve their goals.

After the parent teacher conference

Three women stand in front of a board, one woman with red hair and a green shirt points at a chart while the other two take notes.

You’re not done yet! Use these steps to make sure every parent teacher conference has an impact.

9. Keep communicating

Take what you discussed in the conferences and stay in touch, either through your classroom management tool, email or phone. Share wins and challenges to give parents a full picture of their child’s learning!

Was a parent worried about their child’s math grade? Let them know when their child aces a test or starts struggling with a particular skill, and build a plan together to support it. 

Parents are vital partners in the education process. It’s not always easy, but keeping the lines of communication open can help prevent misunderstandings and catch problems before they get more serious. 

10. Adjust your instruction

Parent teacher conferences can show you talents and needs you might not see otherwise — use that info while you teach.

They give you insights into things like:

  • What kind of sports students do outside of school
  • What social emotional skills a child struggles with at home
  • Where they need a little extra motivation or time to complete homework

Keep an eye out while you teach and make your lesson plans. 

Every student is different, so use all the data available to you to build an equitable learning environment where every student has what they need to succeed.

Final thoughts: Parent teacher conferences

At the end of the day, you and your students’ parents want the same thing: to see students succeed, learn and grow at school and at home.

Keep this common goal in mind so you can have productive conversations that boost student growth!

Remember:

  • Prepare talking points and resources ahead of time
  • Work together to create next steps for after the conference
  • Keep the lines of communication open so you can work together

Good luck! You’ve got this.

Use Prodigy at your next parent teacher conference

Prodigy Math Game is an engaging, game-based platform that turns math into an adventure — and gives you actionable insights to share with parents year-round. Whether students are playing in the classroom or at school, they're always answering curriculum-aligned questions and building key math skills. Plus, it's free for students and teachers!

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