What are your go-to strategies for ensuring that your parent-teacher conferences are successful? We asked some friends to write a brief description of the special touches they couldn't live without.
Conferences are often scheduled back to back, which leaves families and students waiting anxiously in the hallway outside the classroom. To help students and their families feel welcome during their wait, I often display our current favorite classroom books on a table outside for them to read. I also set up a little station complete with markers, cards, and a little sign that invites parents and guardians to write a note of gratitude to their children. These notes then go into a basket of notes we keep in our classroom. Throughout our school day, we pull these special notes out and read them aloud before adding them to our wall of gratitude.
To prepare for conferences, I ask students to reflect upon the work they have been doing throughout the term. We look through their favorite work samples and complete a strengths-and-goals book so that students can help lead their own conference. Students examine their strengths and set a goal for each subject area. In addition to the reflection, I put a photograph of the student "in the midst of" math, reading, or writing on each page of the book. These photographs really help parents and students visualize and connect with the amazing work they are doing in school!
—Beth Lawson, 2/3 grade looping teacher
I like to sit at a small round table, eliminating the "me vs. you" that may be felt if I'm on one side and parents are on the other. It's decorated with a tablecloth that has student handprints on it and a low vase of flowers in the middle (so we can easily see over it), and there is calm and lovely music playing softly in the background. Being welcomed into a beautiful space provides a nice tone from the start.
My husband and I will never forget sitting down at our daughter's fourth-grade conference in November and hearing that although the teacher was sure our daughter was a wonderful girl, she hadn't had a chance to get to know her because she had too many kids and the kids with behavior problems were getting her attention. I vowed then to be extremely careful about what I say to parents, not wanting anyone to feel the way that comment made us feel. When parents and guardians take time out to meet with us, they deserve to hear that we truly know their child's strengths and weaknesses, that we enjoy them immensely, and that we value and honor their individuality. This comes easily if we make it a habit to be present in every small-group and one-on-one conference, providing finely tuned attention to them all, no matter how many there are.
—Lori Sabo, teacher and Daily CAFE contributor
Students are required to attend their conferences. Being a student is their job, and they need to have a say in what they are learning as well as what their goals are.
Students take an active part by explaining to their parents what their goals are, how they have been working on them, and what the next steps are. Sometimes students will even say something like, "You can help me at home by ____." I love this part! Parents are always surprised by how much their children know about themselves and what they need to learn.
It is always helpful to have a tape recording, Flip Video on the computer, or examples of the student's work to show parents. Students like to refer to these as well. I have the students share the good, the bad, and the ugly, to show progress. It reinforces with parents what they have been working on since the beginning of school.
—Pam Pogson, 5/6 grade looping teacher
Here's something I am going to do this year to help reinforce the goals that are set at conferences:
In fifth grade, we spend a lot of time preparing for conferences. Students reflect on their work and help to establish two or three specific goals for the school year. This year, students will be reflecting on their progress toward these monthly goals. Each student will write a reflection letter in which they will rate their effort, write specific actions they have taken toward meeting their goals, and write the results they have seen from those actions.
On the back of each reflection will be my observations and assessments of their progress toward their goals. Finally, students will take these goal reflections to share with their families. Families are invited to write their observations, concerns, and celebrations of their student's work right there on the form and then send it back to me. Each letter is collected and will be given to students to help them prepare for student-led conferences in the spring.
—Rachel Stephens, 4/5 grade looping teacher
I always worried with the rapid-fire scheduling of conferences that they all started to sound alike. I did not want my parents to feel like I did not know their child as the unique, wonderful learners they were, so I developed a form to help me focus on each individual child before their conference.
I created a form that was very simple. The top has a space to write student strengths, the middle is for recording challenges, and the bottom is reserved for goals. Since students attend the conference, there is a space for everyone's signature at the bottom. During the conference, we add to or revise the form to match our discussion. The parent and student each receive a copy, and I keep a copy to revise throughout the upcoming trimester.
—Melanie Quinn, instructional coach
I always want the parents to feel welcome. Here are a few things I do for the families:
- Have music playing quietly throughout the conference.
- Place fresh flowers on the conference table.
- If babysitting is an issue, I welcome the little ones who come along.
- I take family pictures, frame them, and display them in the room to add that touch of home.
—Kelly Yahr, 1/2 looping teacher
Good luck to all of you this conference season!