When I was a principal, conferences were among my favorite times of the year! Time after time, they reaffirmed a key belief that I hold: our teachers are great! As parents were leaving the building, many would stop by my office to give accolades about our teachers and praise the learning experiences their children were having throughout the year. This provided terrific informal data that supported the positive relationships and learning environment we created together. What a great feeling for our teachers and families!
Fall conferences might be the first time teachers are meeting parents, other than the friendly, "hello" during drop off/pick up, and the occasional family night. Conferences are a time when teachers get 10-20 minutes (depending on the district) to showcase academic/social/emotional learning goals and experiences that students are setting and demonstrating throughout the school year. Sometimes, parents don’t know what to expect … and neither do teachers! It is extremely important that we are confident in our abilities to showcase the academic, social, and emotional progress and future goals that empower students to grow throughout the school year.
Ten Tips for Productive Parent Conferences is a timely read with great suggestions to organize successful parent teacher conferences. This article was adapted from Your Best Year Yet! A Guide to Purposeful Planning & Effective Classroom Organization by Shoshana Wolfe, © 2006, published by Scholastic. There are many takeaways from the article and three resonated the most with me: relationships, concrete examples, and organizing an intentional plan of communicating progress, concerns, and future goals.
Parents want to know that you love teaching all children and you love their child. It is important to showcase the positive aspects of our profession, school, and district. Parent want to know that you love your job and truly know and understand their child. One great way to create a positive relationship with your parents is by making sure you have great knowledge of their child. Know your kids, ask them questions, and show that you genuinely care for them. Ask the following questions of your students:
1. How do you learn best?
2. What stops you from learning as well as you could?
3. What needs to happen in our classroom to help you become a better learner?
Asking these questions of your students will create relational trust within your classroom while providing you with talking points during conferences. It will also support your understanding of students, allowing you to articulate what their child needs to be successful. Most importantly, it will show that you involve students in the learning/planning process, allowing your students to assume some responsibility to their own learning. Parents will fully appreciate and know that you understand and care for their child with this approach.
Parents want to see example of their child’s ability and progress. Have a portfolio of work samples and pre/post assessments. This will provide concrete talking points surrounding a child’s ability and progress over time. It will also help when establishing future goals and individualized instruction.
Going into a conference without a plan can be detrimental to establishing a positive relationship with parents. To help organize thoughts you can use a Parent Conference Form (PDF). This can include strengths, concerns, and future goals. It will also help you stay organized when you are on your 15th conference of the day.
In conclusion, teachers, as you enter into conferences, make a great impression! Help parents believe what we already know: your classroom and school are the best, with amazing teachers for their children! Make sure they leave your room with no doubt in their mind. Parents should be saying, “there is no better teacher and place to learn for my child!!!!!”
It all comes down to positive relationships with teachers, parents, and ultimately students that will enhance success during conferences and throughout the year. Feel free to share your positive parent/teacher conference experiences and ideas in the comments. Let’s sustain professional learning together!
Enjoy conferences, making it a great experience for everyone!