Twenty minutes. That's the amount of time that teachers usually have... to gain insights from parents about their children, share important information with them and hopefully build a relationship while making a good impression. Parent-Teacher conferences can be both challenging and rewarding when done right. Here are some tricks that I have picked up along the way from fellow teachers and have discovered from many years of hosting parent conferences.
Before the Conference:
1. Prepare like you are cramming for a midterm exam! Start early and create a cheat sheet of notes for each of your students. I review data points from all of these areas: Current grades, DIBELS scores, Lexile reading levels, notes on what students are currently reading, #of library books checked out that year, #of missed homework assignments, and observations made during small group conferences. Once you collect and review this information - a profile of a child's current progress starts to emerge.
2. Pre-Conference Parent Surveys- I have created q simple, 2 question survey for parents to complete before coming to the conference. Asking parents to list their most pressing concerns before arriving at the conference helps to ensure that important topics are discussed and resolved. This year, I used a survey monkey form to help facilitate a speedier return of data.
3. Student Feedback Forms- I have a colleague (Colleen from teachingheart.net)that has her kids fill out questionnaires about their work habits and current progress before conference day.
She shares these forms with parents on conference day to facilitate better discussion.
4. Gather materials to share with parents. Ex. writing portfolios, work samples and hand outs to help parents support children from home.
5. Prepare the conference area: I like to set up a table so that my chair faces a clock to help keep us on track. And make sure that the chairs used for parents are the same size as the one you are using. I have seen teachers sit in their own chairs while putting parents in larger student chairs. I feel that this sends an authoritarian message that doesn't foster collaboration. I also like to put out Kleenex, paper and pencil for note taking and a bowl of mints or candy.
6. Hang a note on the door:
Parents, please knock at the door when you arrive to help keep me on schedule.
7. Send a reminder note a few days before the conference day.
During the Conference:
1. Start by asking this question: "Is there anything that you would like to ask or make sure that we talk about during this 20 minute session?" A lot of times, teachers are so quick to jump right in and share information with parents that they forget to make it a conversation. Additionally, parents might then wait till the last 5 minutes to bring up a topic that might take 15 minutes to explore. When it is your turn to share information, remember to start and end the conference with a positive comment about the child. There is nothing in the whole world more important to me than my 3 daughters, and I try to remember that every parent sitting across the table from me feels the same way about their child.
2. Take notes during the conference. Often during the meeting, as I am addressing parents' concerns, I will make a promise to find out information or to provide support in some way for a child. After 24 conferences, trust me... you will not remember specific details unless you have written them down.
After the Conference:
1. Follow through with your promises. Make a list of things that need to be done or followed up on for each child and try to complete that list within a week of the conference date.
2. Send an email thank you to every parent. This is a great way to summarize what was discussed and it also helps to build relationships.
3. Set a date for a follow up conference for those children that are at- risk for academic and/or social issues. It helps parents to know that you will be touching base again with them in the near future.
Although, this might seem like an exhausting list of things to do for a short parent meeting, those 20 minutes can really reap great rewards for successful conferences!
Researchers in this area predict that student-led conferences are the future. Click here for more information on this interesting trend.
And... comment below and share your opinion and/tips on how to make conferences better!
Sometimes it seems like there's nothing scarier in October than..... Open House!!
The endless room preparations, counting and recounting everyone's projects to make sure they're all there and the anticipation of making small talk for a couple hours is enough to make the bravest teacher begin to shake! Over the past few years, I have found that providing activities for my families to do while visiting- is a great way to take the scary out of Open House!
Here are a few easy ideas to help make your families feel welcome in your room:
Whole Class Journal Station: I use these journals at our writing center on a weekly basis. Students choose one, write an entry and draw a picture about the topic. I have used these journals for several years, so students enjoy reading what past classmates have written. On Open House night, I invite families to write in a journal of their choice. These are always some of our favorite entries to read later in the year!
Readers' Choice Board: We use this board to vote on our recent read alouds. Students move their tee-shirt magnets to indicate whether or not they liked the book. On Open House night, I put out copies of the poem What I Like About Autumn. Families read the poem aloud and then vote with the magnets to show if they liked the poem.
Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Awards: We have spent the last few weeks reading the K-3 PA Young Reader's Choice Award nominees. My kids have loved all of the titles shown on the board above. On Open House night, families will vote on their favorite title and results will be shared in our next newsletter!
Hope these ideas will help to make your Open House more engaging for you and your families!
Most teachers love crafts....I am NOT one of them! So when I see a DIY project that I'd like for my classroom - I usually head to Amazon to see if it can be purchased! But in the case of these Demonstration Notebooks and Microprogression Charts, I am ALL IN for this DIY project. Here's how I make them and use them with my small groups:
Demonstration Notebooks are a collection of strategy sheets that a teacher can use when working with a small group of kids that are struggling with a specific skill. They are concise "talking points" for teachers. Demonstration Notebooks are like having cheat sheets at your fingertips for all of the critical reading comprehension skills. I share these with my students, too. I will often have them read the notes before we even begin to discuss them and to practice the skill.
I am in the process of creating these strategy sheets for all of the important comprehension skills. This is a DIY project in the making...
Micro-Progression Charts are a great way to help kids to see the steps they need to take to get to mastery. All reading and writing skills can be broken down into progressive steps from start to finish. My kids love to check out the charts to see at which level their work falls. These are concrete examples of what we are hoping for them to achieve.
Pictured above is a micro-progression chart for summary writing that we used for the book- How To Eat Fried Worms.
Want to learn more about these DIY projects? Check out this DIY LIteracy video by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.
Have you ever experienced that feeling of loving a book so much that the characters become your friends and you are swept into their lives every time you turn a page? That is the feeling that I strive to create for my students whenever we read a class novel. I want them to have a "conversation" with the characters as though they were sitting across the table from them. Some kids have never made that kind of connection with a book, but I believe that we can teach kids to notice the important "sign posts" that help them to connect to the story.
Last week, my friend and colleague, Kristi shared information with our third grade team regarding a close reading strategy known as Notice and Note. Notice and Note by authors Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst teaches kids to watch for 6 signposts that alert them to significant moments in the text and to question these moments through rereading and discussion. I love that these "signposts" can be used as a universal strategy with any text that you read. Here's how I use them in my classroom:
https://bit.ly/2fk3b7z - Watch Beers and Probst explain Notice and Note
https://bit.ly/2RgAp5R - Posters and other resources to use Notice and Note in your classroom