April 4, 2013

On Campus: Parent-teacher conferences get graded

Study looks at how what works in teacher-parent interactions and finds more systematic training would help teachers on the home front.

A winning study puts teacher-parent conferences under the microscope. “Because Wisdom Can’t Be Told” is the excellent main title of the article just honored by teacher trainers.

The subtitle, like the research paper itself, is a slog: “Using Comparison of Simulated Parent-Teacher Conferences to Assess Teacher Candidates’ Readiness for Family-School Partnership.”

But there's good information in the scholarly read. Here are some “meatball” points I took away from it:

 Like medical students being taught skills for patient interaction, teachers in training would benefit from clinical practice in working with parents.  Teachers often approach a conference from the point of view of giving information and advice, but more effective conferences have teachers gaining insight into home situations and strategizing with the parent.  Most teacher candidates overestimated their initial competence in working with parents, but got better with discussion and training.  Mechanics that help: Body language showing openness and confidence, listening behaviors like not interrupting, and having a range of positive suggestions to adapt to home needs.

As a veteran of a few very difficult parent conferences, I have seen gracious professionalism make a world of difference in getting past the grief and denial phases of bad news delivered. I have also seen how a lack of people skills can make a hash of it.

Good to see the subject is being tackled in a logical, informative way and even more heartening that its value was recognized. Parents, for all their pluses and minuses, can be the most powerful partners a student, a class, a school can have.

Specifics: The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education awarded author Joan Walker, PhD, the 2013 Outstanding Journal of Teacher Education Article Award for “Because Wisdom Can’t Be Told. Read the full article at

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