Parent Teacher Conferences 101: Before, During & After…. by Laurel Schumacher

Laurel Schumacher is a first grade teacher at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School at Illinois State University.

It’s spring parent teacher conference time in many schools across the nation! Parent teacher conference time is an important time in the life of a school. It’s a time set aside for teachers and parents to meet face to face to discuss everything about a child, from curriculum and academic achievement to behavioral aspects and work habits. Most important is the opportunity to have a comprehensive conversation about a child and form a partnership to support learning. Throughout a school year, teachers have opportunities and responsibilities to share student progress with parents in many ways, from casual conversations to report cards. Conferences are a supplement to these things and can be the single most important occasion a teacher has to build a partnership and have a deep conversation with a parent about their child.

For many new teachers, and even seasoned ones, the idea of parent teacher conferences can also be daunting- but it needn’t be! With some clear planning and preparation, parent teacher conferences can be one of the most enjoyable and gratifying experiences you will have as a teacher. Below are some tips for before, during and after PT Conferences. I sincerely hope some of these tips will help you make the most of your conversations!

 Before:

  • Publicize your conferences! Send home the message about sign-up in as many ways as you are able: In your newsletter, on a paper invitation, email, phone calls. Make every effort to get every parent there.
  • Send home a pre-conference questioner, asking parents about their child such as: areas of strength, areas of concern, what’s going well, what they would most like to discuss during their conference time, specific questions. This allows you to anticipate parent questions and be prepared for anything that might come up.
  • Have every child in your class also fill out the same type of form (a self assessment) with their perspective on what’s going well, what they need help with and any issues they would like for you to discuss with their parents.
  • Gather and organize samples of work to share with parents. Have rubrics, grading scales and assessment information handy. Having evidence to look through guides the discussion and allows for authentic conversations.
  • Have a written agenda or checklist for each child’s conference (the conference form). Add notes ahead of time based on the pre-conference questioner.

During:

  • Remember that a PT conference is a two-way conversation. Open with a conversation starter such as: I want to begin by telling you how much I enjoy Tommy’s sense of humor. He makes us laugh everyday. Is he this funny at home? Or….Maria is such an avid reader in the classroom. She must always have her nose in a book at home!
  • Create a welcoming environment for parents. Sit on the same side of the table and greet each parent by name and with a smile.
  • Do your best to stick to the schedule! Use a timer to ensure no parent waits longer than 5 minutes. Show that you value every parent’s time and efforts.
  • Be positive- even if you have difficult issues to discuss. Use the compliment sandwich approach- for each weakness or concern, sandwich it in between two compliments.
  • Provide comprehensive information. Be balanced in sighting strengths and areas to work on.
  • Keep the emphasis on learning! Redirect issues that don’t focus on school progress for another time. Teacher should “drive the conference car”.
  • NEVER compare one student to another or discuss other students. Speak only about the child you are conferencing about. Speak about concerns in terms of developmental stages or averages. Joe is reading below what is expected of a first grader or Amy’s writing is difficult for others to read and is developmentally below where she’s expected to be at this time of the school year. NEVER use the words highest, lowest, best, or discuss the child in relation to other children in the class.
  • Provide concrete strategies for parents to work on at home. For example, if a child is under achieving on math, give clear ideas of things parents can do at home to help strengthen skills. Give parents a “tool belt”: web sites, games and other ideas that a parent can do at home tonight.
  • Most importantly- show parents that their child is important to you. Tell a story or share an example of a proud moment.
  • Finally- compliment the parents too! Let them know they are doing a great job with their child. Provide one specific example of something fantastic about their child that they get credit for.

After:

  • Send a brief follow up note thanking the parents for coming. Mention one specific thing discussed in the conference or provide a compliment and goal for the coming months in school.
  • Use your class web site or newsletter to thank all parents and provide positive feedback for the conference time.
  • Take time to reflect- what went well, what might you do differently next time?

SAVE all the documents, notes and resources you used during the current conference period. You will be happy you did when the next PT conference time rolls around!

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