Establishing Expectations for Parent-Teacher Conferences in International Schools

by André Double

We will soon be welcoming parents into our International Schools to update them on the progress our students have been making at the start of the school year. These interactions present a wonderful opportunity to live out your Mission, Core Values, and guiding philosophy through which you intend to represent them. In this article, we set out how you can make the most out of your Parent-Teacher Conference (PTC) days in the weeks ahead. I’d be delighted to hear your responses in the comments below on any further tips you may have. 

Start Early

With any whole-school event, the process must begin well ahead of time. When it comes to overall responsibility, two heads work better than one and it is a great leadership opportunity. If you have an existing system – review it ahead of time. If you are starting from afresh, get the right people together and begin with a list of questions you will need to address. When, where, and the model of feedback to be used are good places to start. Articulate a vision for what you want your PTC to be. Knit your PTC into meetings and make sure it features regularly on agendas and people have the chance to comment on its design and implementation. Questions you’ll need to consider. 

  • Will PTC be during the school day or after it? 
  • How long will the meetings be? 
  • How will we deliver the right balance of academic and overall progress?
  • Do our teachers have accurate, up-to-date and relevant information?
  • Will specialist support be on hand (for example wellbeing and SEN guidance)? 
  • What system will we use for parents to sign up? 
  • What % attendance are we looking for / how will we try to achieve that? 

Language and Cultural Norms – Use Your Values

One of the things that repeatedly struck me in schools that I have worked in has been the lack of scaffolding when it comes to the language you want your teachers and wider staff to use. Teachers need to be supported with specific key terms and terminology that can articulate progress. Without such structured support, it is like giving the keys away to an incredibly high-performing sports car and saying ‘There you go’. Say your school has the following values: Respect, Empathy and Friendship. These values need to form the essential framework for the conversations teachers have with parents. Let parents know how your students use these values in their everyday school lives and experiences at school. Use them to do the heavy lifting and develop your wider culture. 

Your Overall Culture

Providing mountains of plastic cups, hundreds of plastic water bottles and a significant amount of calorific treats to parents says something about your culture. If you have the 17 Sustainable Development Goals on the walls, yet give out tonnes of freebies with limited value there is a misalignment somewhere. Show your parents you are thinking about sustainability and have actions that demonstrate it. 

Will your staff stand and greet parents as they come to sit down? Again a representation of your culture. In what manner will staff speak? Will translation be available? Are there software Apps that can support it in real time? How will the conversation be facilitated? Where will teachers and parents sit – such an important cultural descriptor. And finally, will parents have the opportunity to ask questions? Again, all symbols of your school culture and how you value the input of others. 

Comment on What You Know – Not What You Don’t

Avoid the temptation for teachers to get drawn into commenting on facts and incidents that are out of their remit and possibly beyond their control. Be objective and have teachers comment on observable facts and behaviours. What they see, when and how it impacts the learning journey. Building bridges with parents will quickly find parents naturally open up over time should they need further support and guidance. 

Use PLAIN English and Speak Slower

When meeting parents whose first language may not be English, teachers must show empathy and speak in plain English. Avoid idioms where a student may have ‘their head in the clouds’ or is not quite ‘on the ball’. Parents will spend important time trying to understand what this means and may miss other important key information. Good pronunciation and articulation are important to be understood but CAN be achieved in our wonderful multiplicity of international accents. 

Acknowledge Strengths – Provide a Target(s)

Teachers are often in a highly unique positional advantage in being able to share significant strengths and abilities that parents may have not been aware of. Whatever the academic subject or sport, have teachers focus on explicit strengths, that can ignite inner passions, improve conversation, and develop relationships between parents and their children. All it takes is one sentence: “Rob’s love and appetite for all things poetry has been remarkable, and he has written an incredible number of poems in his journal – we are all so proud of him”. 

When making targets, have teachers scaffold them and link them back to the class. Use and direct available resources to support them. 

Time Management is Highly Important

When you have a limited amount of time, time management and discipline are crucial. Running considerably over time with one parent means the subsequent parents may not receive the allotted amount of time. Make sure that staff are explicitly clear about timings, and importantly how to wrap them up. As a leader, you may need to support staff who inadvertently get their timings wrong. Staff need to be objective and use the clock as their friend. “We’ve run out of time now, but if there is anything you’d like to discuss further, you may like to come back at….”. 

Share Valuable Resources

Parents want the best for their children. Support them with key tips, resources, websites and Apps that will ignite outside interest and extend learning. Have your IT support desk help with sign-ups for websites and Apps to take the hassle away from them having to do it at home. 

Always Leave a Room Spare

Parent days are busy and occasionally, some may need to speak with a senior leader about a concern. Make sure there is an adequate professional space on each floor. 

Gather Research

Questions you might like to gather feedback and responses from parents include: 

  • The amount of time spent on homework each night?
  • Does My child understand the homework they have been set? 
  • Activities and events my child takes place in outside school? 
  • An area in which I’d like to be able to support my child more? 
  • Are there any areas of support that the school can offer you? 

Ask for Help

We can sometimes be bad at asking for help. We sell an expensive product and our customers have high expectations for their children who attend our international schools. Yet many of our parents have fabulous experience in financial management, building management and control, product design and innovation. Ask for help with questions and challenges your school may be facing in the future. Use the power of your parents to develop a shared sense of ownership and in doing so build powerful external communities that take your school to the next level. 

Good luck to all of our fabulous international schools during your PTC days! 

If you are interested in becoming an international school principal, why not sign up for our course in January – Becoming an International School Principal? 


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