It’s that time of the school year, parent-teacher interviews. For secondary teachers, who might teach up to or over 150 students, sessions are often fully booked, with back-to-back 10 minute interviews for 4 hours, multiplied by two or three evenings. For primary teachers, there might be fewer students, but there are multiple subjects to discuss in a ridiculously short time. We somehow have to manage to quickly establish a relationship and rapport with parents, summarise their child’s progress and identify their unique strengths, pinpoint achievable actions for immediate improvement and keep the flow of the interview just right so that everything is wrapped up neatly by the end of the time slot.
Navigating the parent-teacher interview can be very daunting when you are starting out, as you just don’t know what to expect or if you are saying the right thing. So, here are my survival tips for giving a great parent-teacher interview…
Have a plan of action for each student. As well as summarising student progress for the term just passed, interviews are also an opportunity for a shared plan of action for the following term. Make sure that you set short, sharp, achievable goals, so that at the next interview you can discuss and reflect on these. Take notes for each student so that you can keep track and refer to these next time. Most importantly, do not make promises that you cannot keep. Be realistic about your time and your role as a teacher, and be aware of what is really beyond your reach. For example, offering individual tuition every lunch time to one student is unreasonable (and a conflict of interest as it is unfair to other students), however, setting up a regular tutorial session for all of your students once a week is more realistic.
Be prepared. This doesn’t just refer to the week before interviews. If you have been keeping a profile of each of your students, (see my post on How to Know Your Learner), you will have collected a great deal of information that you can use to identify strengths and areas to target. Work samples or student books are also useful to have on hand, as are completed assessment tasks and achievement profiles. You want to rely on observations and facts as evidence of the student’s holistic development in your class, rather than ambiguity and opinion.
Let parents talk. Even before I was a parent, I have always had one key understanding for interviews – that while that student is one of many for me, they are the only one to their parents, their most precious, whose education they have entrusted to you. For parents, this is a very important 10 minutes and often the only chance that most take to communicate about their child, so let them talk and learn from what they tell you. Avoid launching into your own prepared speech and instead ask parents what they hope to gain from the interview, what are their concerns and goals for their child or how they are progressing in other subjects or with their peers. Parents will also see a different side to their child at home than what you see in the classroom, so it can be a great learning opportunity for both parties.
Have a plan of action if things go wrong. Avoid being drawn in if the interview is turning into a blame game and stick to the facts. This is where being prepared and bringing student work samples can be very helpful in redirecting parents to specific examples of what you are talking about. Use active listening techniques such as acknowledgment of what the parent is saying by restating their point back to them. Your Head of Faculty or Coordinator should also be nearby to help if you are having a particularly difficult interview, so if a parent becomes aggressive, politely state that you would like bring them over to assist in reaching a resolution.
- Stick to the time limit. This is a bit of an art that you will learn with time, but it is critical that you stay on time or you will end up with a long line of angry parents waiting to see you. If your school does not have a timer already set up in the venue, you might consider placing a clock on your desk. With some parents, you just need to be abrupt and tell them that your next interview slot has started and that you need to move on. Suggest that they call or email you if they have further concerns (more often than not they don’t), but as per my previous point, do not make a promise that you will call them unless you intend to do it.
For more about what the research says about communication with parents, a great article from ACER about getting the most out of parent-teacher interviews can be found here.
Do you have more advice and tips about successful parent-teacher interviews? Please share in the comments below.