Making the Most of Parent Teacher Conferences
It’s parent teacher conference season! Although it is a long and tiring day, PTCs can be incredibly powerful, but only if you are proactive, prepared, and responsive. Here are some tips and tricks to be proactive in how you reach out prior to conferences; how you can most effectively prepare for conferences, and how you can show your responsiveness to your parents after the day has ended. Let’s make the most out of one of the most important events of the school year!
Proactive Tip #1: Call Parents
As conferences come near, whenever you call parents for whatever reason, make sure that you directly ask them if they are going to be attending parent teacher conferences, and cordially invite them if they are on the fence about attending. The week prior to conferences, schedule some time for yourself to call parents of students with whom you have concerns (if you work on an effective team, you should split this up among the whole group). Parents are more likely to show up if they are actually invited by their child’s teacher (versus an anonymous email sent to all parents by the school). Consider how powerful it can be for a parent to receive a personal invitation to attend – that you actually want them to come so you can talk about their most important asset: their child!
What happens if parents can’t make it? Make sure you have a back-up plan that you can share with them. For example: if parents can’t make it because they work at night, find out of if they are willing to meet on another day near conference time – be sure to have specific times that you can propose on the spot.
Proactive Tip #2: Identify Student Goals
In preparation for your conference, be ready to discuss one or two goals that you would like the parents’ support with – whether it be an academic skill or a behavioral modification, having this prepared for parents will help them become more of a partner in the learning process.
Preparation Tip #1: Bring Samples
When preparing for conferences you must be ready with paperwork for ALL of your students; not just the ones you think will be there. This paper should include some, if not all, of the following: current reading score reports or other data reports that you use to plan instruction; updated grade reports for your class (or all classes); student writing / work samples. That last area is a must have: bringing student work samples for parents to view more clearly brings them into the work you are doing with their child. Remember, some parents are not necessarily always clear why and how we do things in the education world – avoid the “eduspeak”, walk them through the assignment, what they did well, and what they should be working on to improve.
Allowing the parents to actually visualize what you are talking about when you share how they are having trouble writing a claim with evidence is much more powerful with hard copy evidence in front of them.
Preparation Tip #2: How to Help at Home
We recommend having two or three items on a list that you can give to the parent regarding ways they can support your class, or your instruction, while at home. These should be tangible, easy to implement, and checked up on over a period of time. For example:
- ensuring that there is a specifically assigned area for their child to do their homework within the home (not just a random area each night or a place with a lot of clutter).
- making sure that the parents are reading with or around their child, or even just ensuring that they are reading what they are assigned each night: “Remember, our school’s expectation is that they are reading at least 30 minutes each night.”
- provide parents with a list of books or websites that directly relate to and support your content area – sometimes, parents just don’t know where the best information can come from.
Give the parents the tools with which to help their child be successful. ALL parents want their children to learn at high levels, always start with that positive supposition!
Preparation Tip #3: Start With the Positive
While in the conference , always begin with a positive comment about their child. For example: “Juan has been a great addition to our class, he always says good morning to me each day and he always participates during our discussions with his peers…” Then, if you have challenging information to share, think about how you will convey this information to his/her parents: “…however, within the last two weeks, the quality of Juan’s writing has decreased a bit. Let me show you what I mean [show a set of writing samples]…as you can see, during his first writing assignment, he did quite well, but there seems to be less and less information being written down. Do you know why this might be happening?”
By sharing positive information first, you are preventing the parent from shutting down and only focusing on the less positive news (if you don’t have something positive or you don’t know what to share, you need to revisit how you are building positive relationships with your students).
Preparation Tip #4: Ask Questions
Next, ask parents what they would like to share about their child. What should I know about Juan? How is he doing at home? When you bring up concerns to a parent be sure to ask if they see certain behaviors at home as well. This will help you see if there are any patterns that you need to follow up on.
Preparation Tip #5: Get Contact Info
Before the parent leaves, be sure to get their contact information and/or clarify the contact information you have already received. For example, maybe the child gave you an email address or phone number that doesn’t work; this is a perfect time to explicitly clarify how to get in touch with them, and what days/times are best to contact them if there are concerns/question/praise moving forward.
Preparation Tip #6: Follow Up On Progress
For students you have the most concerns, be ready to ask his/her parents when you would like to follow up on their progress within the subsequent two weeks. Set a day and time together where you can all follow up in person or over the phone.
Responsive Tip #1: Follow Up With Students
After conferences have ended, compile a list of all the parents that showed up and when you see their child the next day, make sure you let them know that you saw their parents at conferences.
Responsive Tip #2: Follow Up With Parents
Using that updated contact information, follow up with the parents with an email or even an old fashioned postcard (our school used to print out generic ones that were labeled as being from our school – our system also paid for postage that is sent to parents), or if you have time, make a brief phone call thanking them for attending.