November is upon us and believe it or not, you are more than likely 25% of the way through the 2017-2018 school year. I know that’s hard to believe, especially because you might not feel like you’ve even hit your stride (read more about that in my blog from October). Because of that, the thought of parent-teacher conferences might be nothing short of overwhelming. In this post, I’d like to share my top three tips to help you prepare for and facilitate conferences that leave everyone involved feeling empowered, informed, and motivated to make the remaining 75% of the school year happy and productive.
Engage Families Early
Conference schedules can vary greatly depending on the district, building, and individual teacher. Knowing this, it is still our professional responsibility to do everything we can, within reason, to ensure that all of our families have the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about their child’s progress. One way to guarantee that conferences are highly attended is to communicate early about when they will be taking place. Furthermore, I always send a schedule home several weeks before conferences asking parents to choose three times that work for them. From there, I can build a schedule that works for all parties involved. While you’re at it, it’s a great idea to send home a quick questionnaire, like this one from Scholastic, to provide families with the opportunity to share their interests and concerns regarding the conferences. This is helpful for you as well, as you’ll have the advanced warning to prepare any documentation or resources to address those individual needs.
To that end, being prepared for facilitating meaningful conferences is crucial. There’s nothing more stressful than driving to work, getting stuck in traffic knowing you have a 7:15am conference and realizing that you told yourself the day before, “I’ll just print off what I need for the conference in the morning.” Believe me, that’s not just a hypothetical scenario. You want to ensure that you come across as the capable professional that you are while also providing parents with the information they need to help their child be successful. I learned the hard way that it’s best to assemble everything you need for conferences the week before. Some items and resources I have prepared are:
- Copy of important documents: report card/progress report, assessment scores, any type of paperwork you may need signed by the parent or guardian
- Student work artifacts that show both strengths and areas of growth
- Resources to help parents support their students academically: Common Core State Standards info for parents, lists of learning websites, link to your classroom blog/Class Dojo/class Instagram, etc., information on school, district, or community events that engage families in the learning process
It’s not just documentation that you need to be prepared with. Be sure that you’ve thought about the goal of that individual child’s conference, talking points you want to be sure to remember, and answers to questions that you anticipate. This organizer from Scholastic might be helpful as you begin the preparation process.
Get Students Involved
I’ve always referred to these meetings as Parent-Teacher-Student conferences, since engagement from all three parties is paramount in developing positive relationships, which in the end, is beneficial to your students. Expect and prepare them to attend and be involved! I love watching the look of pride in parents’ eyes as their child clearly articulates their learning goals, the steps they’ll be taking to achieve them, and the support they’ll need to do so. Consider helping students prepare a portfolio of their work and support them in the act of reflection and SMART goal setting. As I mentioned in my previous post, involve them in their progress monitoring data – what exactly does it look like to move to the next step in their ELA or math progress? Do your students know the answer to that question? Student ownership in learning has been a hot topic for many years, especially lately. In my opinion, a child cannot take meaningful ownership in their learning if they do not clearly understand where they’ve been, where they are, and where they need to go next. Admittedly, this is not something reserved only for conference time, but instead should be a significant component of the culture of your classroom. But conferences are, however, a great way to make that powerful work even more evident!
Parent-Teacher-Student conferences can be a source of anxiety for all those involved. However, with communication, preparation, and engagement, they don’t have to be! What are your tips and tricks for conferences? Share below!