Brilliant Preparation for Parent-Teacher Interviews
Parent-Teacher interviews can be stressful times for teachers. All sorts of scenarios and questions race through your head in the build up to the day: What will I be asked by parents? How will I explain certain aspects of my practice? How will I approach the interview with Mrs Smith?
Some parents will be nice and friendly, some may be cold and formal, some will be having a bad day: in fact if you expect a whole range of emotions, you won’t be disappointed.
As teachers, we can alleviate much of the anxiety however, by being thoroughly prepared for our Parent-Teacher interviews. Here is an extended article on tried and tested ways of guiding you to a positive experience on the day…
Two sides to the coin
So the key thing to consider first of all is that you need to be looking at this from two sides.
Firstly you might want to think about the interview from the parents perspective: what kind of questions are you likely to be asked on the night? What kind of demands will be made upon your time?
Secondly what sorts of things will you do prior to the meeting, to ensure you have the best chance of a positive outcome. How will you prepare in general? What will you say about such and such an issue. It’s better to have as many bases covered as possible.
As a parent, I’m well aware of the highs and lows that students can go through. I recognise that particular educational outcomes, both negative and positive, can be sometimes more down to the student, sometimes the teacher, and often a combination of both.
It’s important to recognise that it’s human nature for parents to have blind spots and a predisposition towards their own children, at the expense of everyone else.
I’m not saying that parents don’t recognise their child’s failings, but they are naturally inclined towards overlooking their shortcomings and showboating their achievements.
As a teacher, don’t be surprised when you hear of parents giving exclusive credit to their kids for their successes, whilst blaming others for their child’s failings. Not all parents do this, but it is common enough to recognise it as a trait.
Don’t be too hard on parents for this either. We have already touched upon their natural inclination to see the best in their child. Moreover, they often are working on limited information.
Sometimes they are fed misinformation from their children or other parents, especially when the child is responsible for letting themselves down in school.
So with these things in mind, let’s run through a small sample of the questions a parent may ask you at a Parent-Teacher interview. Sneakily, I’ve supplemented these with a modified version that makes a statement rather than a question.
I have designed these to be tough cookies, to encourage you to think about how you would answer them. Expect statements from parents. Would you be able to respond to these confidently?
These questions and their related statements, are just a way of giving you an insight into the kind of things a parent may be thinking. Some of them are to the point, but so are some parents.
And don’t always expect them to ask a question directly. Many conversations are initiated by ‘he said’ / ‘she said’ statements.
The important things is, that they should begin to prepare you for making considered responses if they come up at the interview. Intuitively, at the meeting itself, you will often get a hint of what questions to expect by the body language of the parent as they sit down to talk to you. The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to be derailed by any tough moments.
Before I move on, I have to point out, that almost all of my Parent-Teacher interviews have been positive, with only one or two instances of negativity. The negative ones originated in misinformation, so I was able to respond with a more accurate picture to the parent.
But I have known some teachers to walk away from certain interviews in tears. The particulars around who was responsible aren’t important: what is important however is to make sure that never happens. And with preparation, you almost always guarantee success.
So even though you may not know before hand what questions a parent may have on the day for you, it’s important to understand that things remain firmly in your control.
Knowing your student well makes all the difference: you will be likely to anticipate the things most likely to arise in the meeting. And then you prepare.
So there are few key preparatory steps that most teachers should consider when setting up for a Parent-Teacher interview.
Who is coming?
Ensure you have an up to date list of which parents are coming and when. Depending on the school site you work at, there should be some kind of system for booking a preset interview time with you.
Any system is only as good as the data that drives it, so make sure there is a way for the school to confirm appointments close to the day, so that you have as few no-shows as possible.
Does your school expect or permit students to attend the meetings. I’ve never considered this to be a good idea. If they are prohibited to sit at the meeting, be sure to politely ask them to sit out of earshot before it starts.
Your list of parents will be probably made up of a combination of those who have requested an interview and those where you have sought one.
If you are seeking to meet up with a parent, you no doubt have a good reason for doing so. Naturally then, these should take priority over requests.
Parents who request a meeting interview during normal Parent-Teacher days fall into a few categories. Some have genuine concerns that they would like to discuss. Others don’t have anything really of note to talk about but thought it would be nice to meet the teacher. Some turn up out of a sense of obligation. I sure there are other reasons.
The point to take away from this, is to expect a variety of experiences on the day, from the indifferent to the intense. Scan your list of parents and look out for children in your class that have had some issues in school: social, behavioural, academic, complaints, absences etc. This will put you on the front foot for preparing for such meetings.
Depending on the number of parents you have to see, it might be worth making prior contact, perhaps during a confirmation call, on whether they had any particular topics they wished to discuss when they see you, to help you prepare best for a productive meeting.
Getting advanced knowledge of what questions they might have is very powerful, and the time invested in calling them pays dividends for your preparation. Even if you get prior warning of a negative issue, you should embrace such information: forewarned is forearmed.
Because you know your students well, you will naturally enough want to spend more or less time on particular areas of the child’s education that you feel needs more detailed discussion. The limited time that you will be allocated for each meeting, should allow you to quickly decide what can be omitted and what must be included.
Some Parent-Teacher interviews are only scheduled for 10-15 minutes and for good reason. They should be seen as nothing more than a catch-up with a parent.
With this in mind, avoid dropping bombshells upon them about their child, which they should have known a long time ago. Serious matters need to be dealt with as they emerge. Don’t collect them and empty them on the table in one go.
So knowing all of this should allow you to map out the agenda of the interview. You control this, not anyone else. So commit to paper, what you want to talk about.
A standard pro forma can work for all of your students, which allows you to go through consecutive areas of the student’s schooling. I have drawn up one here for your use. Whatever you use, keep them simple and uncluttered, making them much easier to find and take down information.
Depending on the student, some areas will be more detailed than others. After the pleasantries, when the meeting begins, it is very important that you unfold what you will be discussing during the time they are with you.
Furthermore, you advise the parent that you will set aside some time before the meeting closes, to answer any questions or discuss any other matters. Always use positive or neutral language in explaining such things: avoid words like ‘complaint’ or ‘issue’ or ‘concern’.
This does a number of things:
- First, it keeps you in control of the interview agenda and sets the tone for a positive meeting.
- Second, it demonstrates that you are a professional and have prepared in advance.
- Third, it shows respect to the parent, insofar as you have set aside time for them. You are telling them that it is not a monologue, but a dialogue and that you are in partnership with them in educating their child.
If a parent decides to disregard your agenda and wishes to steam ahead with theirs, the best advice is to politely point out that you are happy to discuss that matter, but that the Parent-Teacher interview sessions are not the best structure for doing so.
You might say you are open to arranging a more suitable interview time for them, before or after school, to explore the issue, but as time is pressing we will work our way through the agenda for the moment.
The reality is, we all occasionally like an opportunity to put the world to right (or the school) or just get a chance to let out some steam about something that is on your mind.
In my experience, when I have handled it sensitively in this way, more than often the parent doesn’t follow up with any subsequent interview request. This may indicate that there are no serious issues afoot.
It goes without saying that not only should you dress professionally, but act professionally too. Check out this earlier post: A simple dress code for Teachers
Over the years I have been proud of the standards shown by teachers at these meetings. Most teachers make an effort to dress professionally, knowing that first impressions are lasting impressions.
It would be great to see more teachers continuing to use these wardrobes beyond the Parent-Teacher interview and into the classroom. If we are true professionals, then we must be consistent professionals. Of course the dress code article above, notes legitimate exceptions!
Your verbal and nonverbal actions need to be consistent with your profession. Don’t use slang and certainly no expletives, even if a parent might. Maintain a posture that is relaxed but formal. I would avoid crossed arms, slouching, leaning on your hands etc.
If a parent, as rare as it may be, steps out of line, keep your cool. If it’s serious enough that you cannot allow it to pass, politely ask them to refrain from repeating whatever it was. If it is most improper, then don’t feel you cannot stop an interview. You should never feel threatened or intimidated at any meeting.
However, occasionally from time to time, it does happen that a teacher will get a grilling. And unfortunately, it was probably coming to them for some time. Teachers, good people that they are, share the same performance mix as other professions, ranging from those who brilliantly excel to those who grossly under-perform.
If you have let your practice go in some area, don’t be surprised if someone calls you on it. None of us are perfect, but we all have minimum standards of competency that we are expected to achieve.
Sometimes your school will have a set area like the assembly hall where all meetings take place, with desks running in neat rows for all interviews to take place together. If this is the case, make sure you keep sensitive information out of eye and earshot of other groups around you.
In these communal interview areas, often enough an administrator will be on hand to keep scheduled times, by the use of a bell. They also are good for crowd control and stepping in if a parent needs to be asked to leave.
If you are in your own class, then keep a strict eye on the time. Do not over run your allotted time unless you want to irritate those next in the queue. In the past I have waited for unacceptably long lengths of time past my scheduled slot as a parent, because my child’s teacher wasn’t professional enough to end a meeting on time.
If someone turns up late, then they are late not you. I always recommend you politely tell them straight up that they have missed their slot and that they will have to rearrange for another time.
However you might want to facilitate them, if you have a vacant slot on your schedule, but that’s up to you. The important thing is that the other parents are not inconvenienced by this.
Make sure your class is well-lit, open and with a means of communicating to administration. I would always keep the door open and latched back for safety. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as parents outside cannot hear the conversations.
What to bring
How long is a piece of string? It would be nice to have everything to hand, and for some teachers who conduct meetings from their own classes, they may have this resource. Those who have to move away from their class will need to think what items to take with them for supporting the meeting.
Here are a few items that might be handy to have on the day.
- Teacher diary.
- Attendance roll.
- Behaviour log.
- Student work samples.
- Assessment pieces.
- Assessment schedule.
- Work programs.
- Curriculum documents.
- Syllabus documents.
Much of this might be on your digital device although be careful about sharing your screen with non-staff members. You can never be sure what sensitive school information might just appear at the wrong time, so I would opt for paper and printouts.
As mentioned above, with an agenda, a prepared pro forma on each student and with mutually beneficial respect between the teacher and the parent, things should go well.
However it’s worth mentioning a few tips to avoid unnecessary ‘moments’.
- Avoid definitive words like ‘always’ and ‘never’. It only takes one instance to the contrary to destroy what you have just said. Teacher: “John never does his homework.” – Parent: “That’s not true, he finished his spelling words last month.”
- Don’t get into arguments.
- Maintain propriety at all times, especially around personal hygiene. No picking, scratching, rubbing areas of your body.
- Don’t tell jokes. If you want to be a comedian, join the stage. This is a sure step to making a faux pas at some point.
- Avoid sensitive subjects. I’m from Glasgow in Scotland, in a previous Sales job, I used to visit clients in their homes. I was warned never to discuss Football or Politics by my superiors. For good reason – In a single day, Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Every day, thousands of sales are killed with the same weapon.
- Don’t lie: ever.
- Don’t bluff. Look, if you don’t know something or need more time to explain something, be honest. Tell them that you will get on to it and apologise if this is something you should have had for the meeting.
- Always secure sensitive documents.
- Always take notes on your pro forma.
- Never talk about other staff members, students or parents. It will come back to bite you.
- Don’t commit to anything without some serious consideration and reflection. It’s good practice to say to a parent request that you will have a think and get back to them. Some parents think that you exist for the exclusive education of their child. That’s not fair. You only have enough hours in the day to do an all round good job, for all your students. If parents want more tutoring for their child, they have to organise that on their own. (The obvious caveat having funded support resources in school.)
- Always get back to parents if you tell them that you are planning to.
- Don’t complain about the school, education system, life. They didn’t come to hear this.
It really is in your hands, the way in which your Parent-Teacher interview will go. Just remember that you can make it easy for yourself or difficult. There is nothing to beat good planning and preparation in this area, just as you do in lesson preparation.
Although you can never prepare for every eventuality, by following these steps, the chances are, those uncomfortable moments will be rarities.