by REBEKAH SHAFFER and JONATHON WYLIE
Why Parent-Teacher Conferences Are Essential
Parent-teacher conferences are far more important to the health of a classical Christian school than either parents or teachers tend to realize. Members of both parties can easily—and often do—see conferences as an administration-mandated inconvenience that just has to be endured. And if this is the case, conferences typically will not be stewarded for the great benefit that they can afford. The corrective is for teachers and parents alike to remember that teachers operate in loco parentis, “in the place of parents.” This does not mean, obviously, that parents simply hand off the task of education to teachers in the way that a homeowner hands off a plumbing issue to a technician. It means, rather, that parents and teachers operate as partners in the education of children. Parents have the primary responsibility of educating their children, and teachers serve as assistants and experts toward that end.
With this in mind, parent-teacher conferences present golden opportunities to bolster our partnership in shepherding children’s minds and hearts. What follows is a series of recommendations for how to maximize parent-teacher conferences, organized into three broad categories: Purpose, Preparation, and Presentation.
Classical Christian educators are committed to a humane education. Our students are more than their brains, more than their grades, and more than future laborers. They are whole persons made in God’s image. They have minds, bodies, and souls. They have relationships with people in their households, churches, and school. They have strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, highs and lows. All of that matters to parents, and all of it matters to the classical Christian educator. Accordingly, a parent-teacher conference is an opportunity for teachers to communicate to parents their care for students’ holistic wellbeing. It is also an occasion for parents to give insights about their children that may help teachers know their students better, and thus care for them well.
As we strive to steward parent-teacher conferences for maximal benefit, it is important that we set aside some time to prepare for them. Specifically, it is helpful for teachers to prepare their space, materials, and content:
- Space: Teachers are the hosts of their parent-teacher conferences. They should ensure that their classrooms are tidy and organized. An organized classroom is indicative of an organized class, and makes guests feel welcomed and honored.
- Materials: Teachers should come prepared with recent progress reports, report cards, and sample work so that conversations with parents are rooted in observable data.
- Content: Materials don’t always speak for themselves. Nor do they necessarily give the whole story about a child. Teachers should obviously come to their conferences prepared to discuss their students’ academic work in detail, but they should also prepare insights into the state of students’ affections and virtues. To that end, teachers should aim to provide specific stories and examples that demonstrate that the teacher genuinely knows each child.
Finally, having prepared for the conference, teachers come to the actual meeting. Here they should be mindful of how they present themselves and their content.
- Beginning and Ending: The most important moments of any meeting are the beginning and ending. A fruitful opening question such as “What is your assessment of how your student is doing, not only academically but also relationship, spiritually, and emotionally?” demonstrates a teacher’s holistic care for students while also giving parents a clear opportunity to share matters of concern or celebration. Such a question also enables teachers and parents to compare notes, as it were, on students’ wellbeing. At the conclusion of a parent-teacher conference, it is important to end with words of hope and affirmation. Any goals should be clearly articulated, including practical actions that will be taken in pursuit of those goals. Finally, it is altogether appropriate to conclude with a short prayer for the student and his/her family.
- Posture and Tone: The teacher’s posture and tone should be professional, warm, and humble. Teachers should recognize that parents may need a moment to process difficult information about their child and should create space for them to do so in a spirit of gentleness, patience, and tenderness.
A vibrant and healthy parent-teacher partnership is essential to the health of our school. As we enter three days of meetings, please know that your administration team is grateful for each of you, and we are praying for you as you cultivate strong relationships with your students and their parents.