My first year of teaching, I was definitely a little nervous when it came to parent-teacher conferences. Even though I had participated in conferences with my master teacher during my education program, actually conducting them on my own was a little nerve-wracking. Over the years, I conducted conferences in a few different ways, and I’d love to share some tips with you to help your conferences go smoothly.
1. Keep a Checklist of Tasks
There's quite a few tasks to complete prior to conference week, and to stay on top of everything, I like to make a checklist of tasks with due dates to keep me on schedule. This includes sending out conference slips, reminders, follow up calls to parents that don't sign up, and prepping paperwork. Waiting until the last minute to prep for conferences is sure to make things feel hectic.
2. Invite Both Parents & Have Time Slots for Separate Conferences.
This one is huge. I mean, super important. When setting up our conference schedules, we need to make sure that we are communicating with all parents/guardians involved, and should provide enough conferences slots to meet the needs of all family structures. Family structures are diverse, and we may meet with parents, family members, and guardians. In cases of separation and divorce, we need to be mindful that just because a student lives primarily with one parent, does not negate our responsibility of inviting and communicating with both parents. And just because one parent tends to be more involved, does not necessarily mean that the other parent does not care, or does not wish to be involved. A parenting plan should be on file with the school. Even if one parent has sole decision-making, it does not mean the other parent should be kept uninformed. As well, if parents have shared decision-making, then we need to make sure both parents consent to any agreements we make (i.e IEP, 504 accommodations).
It is not uncommon for parents that are separated or divorced to request separate conference times. Be sure to provide enough conferences slots to accommodate, and have enough copies on hand of any forms or information you tend to provide parents and guardians. As educators we need to be careful that we do not provide one parent with preferential treatment. You can read more about parental alienation and how it shows up in schools here: Parental Alienation in Schools.
3. Invite the School Counselor, Principal, & Educational Providers
At times, it may be beneficial to invite additional educators to parent-teacher conferences. If a student is receiving services, this is a great opportunity for parents to learn about their child’s progress. If the counselor or principal has had interactions with a student, and you feel he or she could provide additional insight that would be beneficial, reach out to those individuals in advance to coordinate a conference slot. You don't need to go through conferences alone.
4. Prep Conference Notes in File Folders
Organization and planning will help conferences go smoothly. I use file folders to organize student conference notes and student work. I like to write out a general outline of what I plan to discuss with parents in advance, so that I can maximize the short time we have together. When I send out my initial conference sign up letter, I let parents know that if they have specific questions or concerns that it is best to contact me in advance, so that I can address those questions during our time together.
5. Start and End the Conference with the Positive
Parent-teacher conferences can be nerve-wracking for parents, as much as it can be for us. Start the conversation with something positive about the child. It might be a character trait that stands out to you, great attendance, participation, or quality and consistency of work. When discussing areas of improvement, parents tend to be more receptive if we talk about the “benefits” of said goal. For example, “he could benefit from improving his organizational skills” may be better received than saying “your child lacks organizational skills.” Ending the conference time on a positive note is always a good idea.
6. Show Examples of Student Work
It’s one thing to talk about student progress or goals, but it helps tremendously to show parents/guardians the data. If for example, a student is not yet meeting benchmark in reading, it helps to show parents a visual of their child’s current reading level, and an example of benchmark text. Then provide parents with resources or tools that they can implement at home to partner with you in their child’s education. In upper level grades, this same concept can be done by pairing the student work next to the grading rubric or standards. Showing data and student work should not be used to only highlight areas of improvement. This is a great opportunity to showcase a student’s progress and success.
7. Provide Resources for Parents to Partner in their Child’s Education.
To make the most of the limited time we have with parents, I like to provide an info sheet with websites and class login info so that students can access at home. If parents don’t have internet at home, the local library is also a great place to access the websites. Other resources such as a list of reading strategies, a sheet of math flash cards that can be cut out at home, study habits, or tips for starting a routine at home can be great starting points in building a partnership. Often times parents want to help, but they don't know exactly where to start. Sending parents with resources can be a great way to gain support at home.
8. Update Parent Contact Info
Double check that parents are receiving any emails you have sent out or communication from the school. Check to make sure parents have signed up to access to the grading system. Sometimes a parent is out of the loop simply because their phone number is outdated, or email address is misspelled. I also like to remind parents to be on the lookout for my newsletter by letting them know which days I send communications home. Conferences are a great time to gather updated parent contact information.
9. Schedule a Follow-up if you Run out of Time
It’ super important to stick to the conference schedule. Provide a couple chairs outside your door for parents that are waiting. Make sure you have a clock visible, a wristwatch, or other way to monitor the time. If you feel that more time is needed to answer parent questions or address concerns, schedule a follow up meeting. You don’t necessarily need to hold a second in-person conference. A phone call or follow up email may be sufficient. Parents want to be heard, and even though you might not have enough time that day, let parents know that you care about what they have to say. Assure parents you are happy to follow up with them, but have parents waiting outside the door for their conference slot. Typically, if you are in regular communication with parents, then the time slot provided should be a reasonable amount of time to meet with parents.
10. Have a Colleague Check-In
Sometimes the last conference of the day can end up the longest. Without a conference lined up afterward, it can be difficult to wrap up a meeting. Let a colleague know your schedule ahead of time, and ask them to check on you at the end of the day. If they walk by your room and see you are still meeting with parents, they can gently interrupt and share that “you are needed in the staff room.” This is a helpful way to wrap up a conference that might go on too long.
The first set of conferences might seem a bit daunting, but if you stay organized and plan ahead, your conferences will go off without a hitch! If you don't want to re-invent the wheel, you can grab my set of conference forms, which includes the checklist, parent letter, sign up forms, and more.
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