To cut down on the artificial quality of it, I try to keep it as conversational as possible. I greet them at the door, to communicate that they are my welcome guests, not an appointment. I offer them cookies and water. I sit next to them so we can look at the portfolio and discuss it together, not across the table from them like I'm conducting a job interview. I ask them if they have questions or concerns or comments, so I'm not talking the whole time.
I've been the parent in this equation at many, many parent/teacher conferences, and I would have liked (and occasionally received) this kind of treatment. But the bottom line, what I always wanted to know (especially when mine were really small, as the children in my class are) was this: is my child loved? Is my child safe? Does my child have friends?
So that's the message with which I start and end the session. I'm so glad to be your child's teacher. I love your child. Your child is safe here. Your child has friends. Frankly, how many letters your child knows, or how high your child can count, feels like small potatoes compared with that. Or, perhaps what I mean is that any academic issues feel solvable after that.
I'm humbled after all these women and men up-ended their schedules to sit down with me and attend so carefully to every word I said. I'm reminded what a huge gift and responsibility I have to care for and educate their little ones, every day. It's the way I feel about all my own children's teachers. I am trusting them with so much.
My parenting life informs my teaching life every day.