At my school, it is time again for parent conferences. This opportunity can be bitter sweet. Before I get into my tips for successful parent-teacher conferences, can I just take a moment to explain my love-hate relationship with parent conferences? (Note: Our conferences are organized as open time slots 3 times a year without RSVPs or scheduling)
What I LOVE:
- when conferences end in successful partnerships between parent and teacher that ultimately foster successful student outcomes
- when parents have the opportunity to be pleasantly impressed with their offspring
What I DON'T LOVE:
- when the majority of parents that I really need to talk with do not make it to conference night
- working late without any breaks the day before/after
Tips for Successful Conferences:
1. Prepare with students. I don't have the luxury of knowing which parents will attend at what time, and so I prepare all of my students just in case. To prep, I give each student a manilla folder and ask them to dig through their work and put in a few pieces that they are proud of (1 piece of writing is required, plus homework, tests, projects, and other work that they like). I also have students fill out a brief form that asks: 1. What have you done well this semester? 2. What are you still working on? 3. What was the most interesting topic for you? I give the students a quiz grade for this to ensure that I get them all back. I then organize the folders in crates so I can easily pull out the student work when a parent comes. With folders in hand, the focus of the conferences is kept with the student work and student voice. I get a lot of parents who are impressed with the level of work produced.
2. Stay positive and solution-oriented. We all know that we should give positive feedback along with the constructive criticism, but sometimes in the rush of conferences, we forget to take a step back and remember that parents have entrusted us with the education of their sweet babies (that have momentarily turned into teenagers). Instead of focusing on the lack of homework or low quiz scores, focus on the opportunities to bring up the homework or assessment grade through future diligence. I also post or photocopy my office hours, the school tutoring options, and other helpful resources that parents may not know about. It has to be about the solution.
3. Actively listen. It seems that every year my heart is broken by the stories of the "simple hell people give other people" (Yes, that was To Kill a Mockingbird). Sometimes students have home issues, learning difficulties, school situations, health concerns, crazy schedules, and a whole host of other obstacles. More often than not, the only way that we learn about these struggles is by listening, not just waiting to talk. (Note to self: I am guilty of this one too much!)
4. Watch the time. Don't spend so long with one parent that another is neglected. If the conference seems to need more time or is particularly contentious, invite them to schedule something for a later date and potentially with an admin or department chair.
5. Invite future communication. Tell parents the best way to communicate with you for future concerns. I am an email girl, so I print small strips of paper with my email address to hand out when needed. Routine communication can head off some major issues at the pass.
What are your tips for successful parent-teacher conferences? Leave them in the comment section below!