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!