Who’s doing the talking? Teacher and parent experiences of parent-teacher conferences
The most common form of direct communication between parents and teachers in schools worldwide is the parent-teacher conference. Purposeful parent-teacher conferences afford the teacher and the parent the opportunity to address a particular topic related to the child, such as academic progress and behaviour. However, teachers are seldom trained to interact with parents, and both parents and teachers often find such encounters stressful and ineffective. This paper investigates parent and teacher perspectives on the parent-teacher conference through a qualitative inquiry. This is framed by the contributions of ecological theorists to home-school communication and an overview of extant themes in the literature. In the present qualitative inquiry, teacher, parent and learner participants were selected by purposeful and snowball sampling and data were gathered by individual and focus group interviews, school visits and the perusal of written parent-teacher conference reports. The findings indicate that parent-teacher conferences are ritualised school events in all types of schools; parents and teachers’ expectations of conferences are limited; teachers are not trained to conduct parent-teacher conferences; and conferences are overwhelmingly directed at problem solution. Parent-teacher conferences are characterised by a client orientation to parents, rather than a partnership orientation to home-school relations.