1. Use a Pre-Conference Letter
I send home a pre-conference letter for my families to fill out. This serves two purposes… 1. It gets parents more invested in attending the conference and 2. It gives me the opportunity to plan the conference out ahead of time (What do the parents want to discuss? What are their concerns/questions?)
2. Schedule Enough Conference Time
Unfortunately, conferences may be the only time you have contact with some of your student’s families. As you create your conference schedule, take each individual student into account. No one likes to come to an appointment and feel like they were rushed out the door. I always schedule a little extra time for those of my students who are struggling academically or behaviorally. I want to make sure that I have enough time for a thorough conversation with those parents, so that we are all on the same page to ensure their child’s success.
The same goes for those parents who like to ask lots of questions. Make sure that you schedule enough time for them to get their questions out and answered. This is where that pre-conference letter comes in handy. If the parents have a lot they want to discuss, you know that particular conference needs to be longer. 😉
3. Have a Plan!
I use a short “cheat sheet” to keep the parent-teacher conferences flowing and on track. It is a quick snapshot of each student. You can quickly list out test scores, academic strengths, areas for improvement, and any questions/concerns the parents listed on their pre-conference form. I also include an area to write out any behavior concerns I may have. As an added bonus, I attach some home connection ideas for both reading and math. These are just some fun activities/games parents can do to strengthen their child’s academics.
4. Begin the Conference with Praise
First off, I always Start the conference with a positive. This seems like a no-brainer until you get in the position where you have a lot to say and so little time to say it. Starting off on a positive note will get you much further than beginning with what needs to be said. (Which may quite possibly be negative.) We all know those parents that we have been waiting to conference with all quarter, but it is important to remember to take a few moments to talk about positive things that are happening. If I can’t think of anything positive, which is very rare, I will usually say something like this.
The reason why the parents are at this conference! When I am going through grades in my grade book, whether it is academic or behavior, I am very careful when there is an “Improving” and a “Needs Improvement” grade. Nine times out of ten, I will choose Improving. This is not to say the student doesn’t need to work on anything, it just means I have seen improvement, and it is noticeable. If for some reason I have to give a “Needs Improvement” grade, I always have an intervention in mind to show how we are going to set up success for that student.
To me, if the student is not improving, I am not doing my job to the fullest. I consider myself a good teacher, so most if not all of my students are improving. Am I going to tell that parent their student needs to work on something? You bet I am! Just keep in mind that you can send the same message to parents, without checking that “Needs Improvement” box.
This is most often the hardest part of the conference, especially for those students who tend to have chronic behavior issues in class. The important piece to remember here is to be honest, but in a caring way. We have to keep in mind that this is their child. If you have some difficult things to say, don’t be cruel, just let them know what issues their child is having in class. Also let them know the interventions that you have put in place to help their child be successful. Allow the parents the opportunity to offer suggestions/thoughts as to what may also help their child succeed. By working as a team, you are showing the student that they have a lot of support in their corner.
Click here to download my editable behavior chart!
7. Involve the Parent
They are PARENT-Teacher conferences after all. As the conference comes to a close, now is the time to address any questions or concerns the parent may have. This is where that pre-conference letter comes in handy. I have always found this to be so important, because they have to feel comfortable communicating with and coming to you first. If there are no questions, I will ask them if they are getting my weekly newsletters and emails. I will also ask if they understand all paperwork coming home, like my parent communication logs. I also ask about the social aspect of their child. “How are they doing on the playground? What do they say about school when they get home?”
Most parents are willing to share any suggestions or feedback. This ends the parent-teacher conference on a positive note, because you took the time to address their concerns. This is a great way to let parents know that you are an open door, and willing to work with them for the success of their child. Take a minute to explain the home connections and how the parents can support your work in the classroom.
-Produced by Janessa Fletcher, Jenn Sego, and Emily Garcia
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