Setting the Stage For Success Every Time
Wow! Is it that time of the year already?! When did this happen? If you are like me, and begin school EARLY (We return to work at the end of July), you are likely preparing for parent conferences. I know that the process of preparing for and hosting conferences can be quite the task. But, if done well, they can build and create wonderful relationships and students that thrive!
The exact process for how you hold student conferences can vary from school to school, or from district to district. At my school, we primarily hold conferences once a year; typically in the Fall, by the month of October. This is the time that the marking period for the first Nine Weeks ends and parents receive official documentation of their student’s progress. Honestly, if you really want all to be well, it’s actually important that parents are aware of their student’s progress, strengths and weaknesses, along the way.
I have seen other Teachers share that their schools have Parent Conference nights where a few evenings are designated for all Teachers to meet with parents. Other school systems, with perhaps my most favorite idea, give Teachers Planning Days where students are not present and conferences are held. I think that districts that truly understand and honor and respect their Teachers’ time and lifestyle needs, offer these planning days so that we, as Educators, don’t have to use our personal time to meet with our students’ families.
In my case, I spend my time for approximately 2 hours after school meeting with parents. Then, I race to the high school to pick up my daughter. As you can imagine, I’m usually late picking her up, and I feel so guilty leaving her at school while I stretch my work hours well past my contractual time. Of course, while I am driving, I am also praying that she is safe and protected. I even opened up my Planning Time to meet with parents for the first time this year; something that I thought I’d never do.
Setting the Stage for a Successful Conference Every Time
Consider Your Needs First
Sit down with your calendar for the month. Review the activities that you already have scheduled and keep in mind any activities or events that you even think that you may like to do. Consider whether or not your schedule, family life, and personality dictate that conferences be held at certain times during the day. If you are not a morning person, or struggle to arrive to work early, consider not scheduling parent conferences before school. I can tell you right now that conferences before 7 a.m. are highly unlikely for me! Ha ha ha. That is certainly not a concern on my end. However, if this works for you, then by all means, please do so.
Truly, put your needs first. Think of your health needs, dietary needs, physical needs, and consider your other responsibilities- work and personally related. Decide if you want to block out a few days to complete all parent conferences at once, spread them out over a few days each week, or spread them out over the course of the month. This is of course, if your school or district does not give you a specific method for holding conferences
Prepare and Get Organized
Preparation and Organization are key ways to help ensure a successful conference. Prepare for parent conferences by deciding what topics or areas you want to emphasize. Decide which tests or work samples you need to share. Are you only going to share and discuss Benchmark or Statewide assessments? Will your primary focus be on class work and assessments? Or, will there be a combination of both?
Once you decide what information you will share during the parent conference, place it in the order that you will present it and place it inside of an envelope or folder. This will help the conference flow more effortlessly and also keep you looking like the prepared professional that you are. I place papers that parents are allowed to keep on top of my pile of papers. For my school system, these include print outs of students’ performance on Benchmark assessments and for Reading Counts performance or Lexile levels. Then, I group the papers by subject matter, and within that, I place them in chronological order.
Get Your Students Involved
One of the latest trends in education is Student-Led Conferences. Our school has discussed this several times over the past few years, but we have not implemented it with fidelity. This conference method seems like a genuinely thoughtful way to share information, and it helps to ensure that students are truly aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses. The downside to this is having parent conference days and times that are setup in a way that students could attend without causing parents additional childcare needs for the time period between them getting off of work and when school ends for the day (for conferences that are held after school).
I wasn’t in a position to host Student-Led conferences in the traditional sense, but I did incorporate my students’ input. Students are kept informed of their progress throughout the year; although admittedly, I need to do even more to ensure this. One of my teammates shared a conference Reflection Form that students complete. It is a simple form that gives students the opportunity to state what they are doing well, areas that they believe they need to improve in, their behavior, and how they view their level of effort is in school. Parents were really touched to read their children’s comments.
Here is the link to the Student Learning Self-Reflection Form that I used. It was a Freebie from Angie Stewart on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Don’t Begin With a Positive Comment About Students
That title may have given you a double-take! Ha ha aha. Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t begin the parent conference with a positive comment about the student. Begin the conference with…. a touch of you. I shared this before, I have amazing relationships with the families that I work(ed) with. Memorable and lasting relationships and interactions. Think of the meeting as a conversation between two human beings that need and desire human connection. From the moment that you make eye contact with that parent or guardian, begin a conversation about how they are doing and how their day was.
Not an empty question or polite exchange, but an interactive, engaged conversation. Share your thoughts and feelings. Talk about your day. Mention a fact or occurrence that your own child(ren) did or said (if applicable). Nieces, nephews, and kids in the grocery store count for this, too. Laugh. Be professional, of course, but more than anything be open, relatable, and available. You will be amazed at how much more relaxed the conference will be, and I even believe that you will find that it was more like a “student-success conversation” than an official meeting. Now, you have a partner in this student’s education and an alias for your classroom.
Lead the Conference With the Student’s Strengths
This is one of those adages that we share all of the time, but it is true. It is one of the best ways to set a parent at ease. Surprisingly, I find that most parents are sitting holding their breath throughout the conference. I don’t know if they think that I am going to be a monster, or if they are terrified to hear that they have created children that they can’t brag on at work. LOL Either way, they’re often more nervous than we can be. Lead with the positive so that they can build a sense of happiness and hope in their child’s ability to thrive and be successful.
In regards to the student’s strength, don’t forget to go beyond just the academics. Remember to share how well the student gets along with peers, other teachers, if they are helpful or kind, a good listener, etc… Character is key, and will take students much further in life than academics will.
Offer Suggestions On How the Parent Can Support Their Student At Home
Parents are usually very grateful for this aspect of the meeting. What is something that they can do at home to help their student grow? If necessary, draw a diagram (this is often helpful with “new math” strategies) or provide examples.
Total transparency, this is an area that I am really good at with students that are on or below grade-level. For students that are more advanced and more independent learners, I am sometimes at a loss. If you have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear all of your advice and brilliance!
Give Parents Tangible Materials That They Can Walk Away With
This might be an area that you disagree with. I know some Teachers feel like, “Parents never read what I give them”. That may be true for some, but many actually do (at least in my experience).
Here are a few ideas for tangible materials that you can share with parents:
- Suggested reading materials or activities
- Book lists (poetry, Non-Fiction texts, chapter books, … a mixture of genres)
- Websites that offer academic support
- Activities or skills to practice at home
- Notes that you have shared with students
- Notes that offer “How-To” for a skill or strategy that you have taught
- (If you are comfortable with this) Books from your library/classroom
- Notebooks and writing supplies
- Sight words
- Vocabulary Words (Give the tier level that the student may need)
- Hope and support <3
End the Conference on a Positive Note
Before parents leave, I like to give them a brief overview of what we have discussed. This may be test scores, benchmark goals, grades, and the like. Here is a link to the form that I used this year. It was offered for free in Harris Helper’s store on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). The information that it allowed me to share offered the best fit for the areas that I needed to discuss during the meeting. If an area did not apply to me, I simply crossed it out and told the parent/guardian why I was doing so. Find, or create, the form that will work best for you.
It may also be really helpful to leave parents with something that they can do at home. Make a suggestion based on your Teacher observations. Think of a simple task that can still provide a powerful punch. Does a student need help with even vs odd numbers, rounding, hearing rhyming words… Reading Non-Fiction texts and writing in a journal are wonderful suggestions for activities. Practicing vocabulary words, creating poetry, or producing a play are other great options that will encourage creativity while learning.
I hope that you have found these tips to be very helpful! Please leave a comment to let me know if you use any of the tips that I have shared. Remember, I need your expertise on activities for my more advanced learners, so leave those pieces of advice, too!