How to Answer Tricky Parent-Teacher Conferences Questions and Comments


 We've all been there.  Sitting at a parent-teacher conference and a parent asks a question or makes a comment and you have no idea how to respond.  And you sit there trying not to look like a deer in the headlights wracking your brain to think of a suitable answer.  Over the years I created some generic answers to pull from when faced with tricky questions (sort of like report card comments, but for parent-teacher conferences!).  Hopefully, these ideas help to prepare you to avoid those “I have no idea what to say” panicked moments and answer parent-teacher conference questions! 

teacher looking flustered with questions marks around her head

Be as prepared as possible. 

The best way to prepare to respond to parent comments and questions is to prepare a conference report for each student.  This way you have information and examples prepared to share with each family.  It helps to take the surprise out of things.  I use these editable parent-teacher conference forms in my TPT store.  If there are any issues or concerns happening in class, be prepared to politely address them with parents.  Try to put a positive spin on things so parents understand you are trying to help and that you care about their child. 

“He can do it all the time at home.”

Remember parents always want to see the best in their children so be gentle.  Possible answer:  “Oftentimes, kids perform differently in different situations or environments.  I've also found that sometimes teachers and parents have slightly different expectations.”  (Then model what you want Johnny to be able to do independently).  

If parents are still insistent that their child can do it.  You can choose to let it go or ask them to video their child.  It's probably not a hill worth dying on, so to speak.  

“She never acts that way home.”

Again, remember parents always want to see the best in their children.  As teachers, we know this likely isn't true, but keep in perspective that this child is the parent's whole world.  There are a few reasons the child might not display the behaviors at home.  The biggest reason is likely different expectations. 

Possible Answer:  “I understand.  We often have different expectations at school than at home and that can be difficult for some students to ____.  ”  Then give a concrete example of the expectation and what you need the student to do at school.  For example, if the expectation is that the students sit quietly to complete their work for 5 minutes at a time. 

“I don't have time for that at home.”

Sometimes this is an excuse because parents don't want to work on school things at home, but often it's the truth.  As teachers, we need to remember that every family situation is unique and some parents are spread so thin that it is extremely difficult to find the extra time to practice sight words or math facts.  When I heard this response, I'd try to show parents a way to practice that takes 5 minutes or less and simply encourage them try their best. 

Possible Answer:  “I understand that time is precious and you have so much on your plate.  Learning ___ is very important to help Johnny to progress in ___ so any extra practice would be beneficial.  Do you think you could find 3-5 minutes every other day to practice ___?  I can send (these materials) home with you for extra support.”

teacher looking confused with large white question mark

“How are you challenging Susie in class?”

As teachers, sometimes we forget that our higher-achieving students' parents want to hear about how you are challenging them.  This doesn't mean you have to have elaborate systems set up.  Parents just want to hear how you are differentiating to meet their child's needs.   

Before conferences, think about all the ways you differentiate to meet student needs and jot them down in a list.  Do you differentiate your math centers?  Use an app like Reading Eggs or ABC Mouse that sets up a unique learning path to meet each student at their level?  Are you doing guided reading or guided math groups?  These are all ways you are challenging children at their present levels.  

Remember – you don't have to know everything!

You do not have to have all the answers.  It's okay to say, “Let me check on that.”.  If you don't know the answer, you can connect the parent with the person who does know the answer (maybe the reading specialist, nurse, principal, special ed teacher, etc.) or you can tell the parent you will ask and get back to them as soon as possible.  Be sure to jot down a note so you don't forget to ask. 
Need more tips for running successful parent-teacher conferences?  Click here to read more!
What other tips do you have for answering tough questions?  I'd love to hear them!


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