Parent-Teacher Conference Interaction: Examining Endogenous Methods for Circumventing Conflict
Danielle Pillet-Shore

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of New Hampshire

Primary Discipline

Social Studies
As the principal occasion for establishing cooperation between family and school, the parent-teacher conference is crucial to children’s education. But there is a problem: decades of literature suggest that parents and teachers are “natural enemies” between whom “conflict must inevitably arise” – particularly during the “dreaded” parent-teacher conference. There are, however, no descriptive empirical studies that explicate how such conflict emerges and unfolds in real time during conferences, nor how such conflict is often avoided. My study contributes to and extends educational knowledge by filling this gap. Using conversation analytic methods, this research examines the interactions that take place during naturally occurring conferences to elucidate systematic patterns of parent-teacher interaction observable across a large and diverse corpus of video-recorded traditional conferences. It provides the first detailed analysis of sequences of parent-teacher interaction arguably most ripe for conflict: sequences in which at least one conference participant criticizes the focal non-present student (treating as a trouble requiring remedy some issue about that student’s academic performance, behavior and/or effort). This study shows that, during these sequences, parents and teachers recurrently collaborate to enable the parent to be first to articulate student criticism. One clear conclusion that can be drawn from the discovery of this regular pattern of parent-teacher interaction is that it constitutes an endogenous method for circumventing conflict: when the parent articulates a criticism of the student that the teacher had been planning to mention, the teacher can simply agree with and build upon what the parent has already said. And when the parent is first to articulate a student criticism, that parent thereby displays independent knowledge of an emergent student trouble – a key practice through which s/he constructs her/his identity as a ‘good parent’ vis-à-vis the teacher.
About Danielle Pillet-Shore
Danielle Pillet-Shore (PhD, University of California-Los Angeles) is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. Her research investigates practices of human interaction that are critical to sustaining everyday social life. Specializing in the methods of conversation analysis, she examines video-recorded naturally occurring interactions between people coming together to socialize and/or do work, elucidating systematic patterns of interaction through which people constitute their social and professional relationships. She is currently investigating how primary-school teachers and their students’ parents interact during parent-teacher conferences, as well as how both previously acquainted and unacquainted parties open their face-to-face encounters across a wide variety of settings.

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