It’s Conference Time!
Your Task: Discuss with parents and/or caregivers, the strengths and needs of a student’s learning over the past two and a half months, in a positive and professional manner. Be as specific as you can with your information, providing students work samples and materials for practice at home where possible. You have 15-minute intervals to complete this task 20-30 times, before, during (lunch or planning time), or after school, throughout the next week. Good Luck!
To say the least, Parent-Teacher Conferences can be a challenge. All participants bring an agenda to the table, whether known or unknown, and time is of the essence. In our district, these conferences also happen to fall during a very demanding assessment window. How do we get it all done in a way that is beneficial and purposeful for all? Perhaps the following points can be of assistance.
*First and foremost, the Parent-Teacher Conference is an opportunity to build relationships. Take the time to reconnect with parents. In our district, this is the second opportunity for a conference, with the first being in November. For this second meeting, parents are given the option of choosing not to have a conference. If a student is showing consistent growth, and not having any social conflicts, it is very common for parents to take advantage of this option, and can be a great relief for over-worked teachers. However tempting it may seem, I would urge teachers to at least reach out for a phone conference. There is no substitute for taking the time to personally connect with parents and share information about student growth, especially if the info you will be sharing is positive. You never know when you may have to be the bearer of not so great news, and having a personal relationship already established, goes a long way to keep parent support positive. Most importantly, it lets students know you are invested in them.
*Remember, you may not be the only conference participant with information to share. Find out what parents want to know or discuss BEFORE you sit down to meet with them. Too often we are so busy preparing all the information we would like to share, that we forget that parents may be interested in different topics. Sending home a pre-conference survey/form that allows parents to list topics of interest, not only gives parents a sense of ownership, it keeps the teacher from being blind-sided by a topic they may not be prepared for, or even aware of, with respect to student progress. Allowing parents to contribute to the agenda prior to the conference, can streamline the discussion, and keep your busy schedule running smoothly.
*Do your homework. A little organization of information goes a long way to keep conferences from getting overwhelming. Design a quick form on which to record information you’d like to share. Typically, the major conference areas for discussion at the elementary level are; Language Arts, Math, and Social Skills/Behavior. It is also a good idea to include an area for follow-up notes, or to-do items, for after the meeting. Having a half sheet or digital notes prepared with the student’s current content area and social progress readily available to share with parents, keeps the conversation based on data and personal. Reviewing the follow-up notes after the conference, serves as a reminder for any items you may need to address, or information you may need to send home, based upon parent interest or request during the conference.
Conferring with parents or care givers doesn’t have to be exhausting and overwhelming. With a little preparation, it can be a great opportunity to reconnect and share data that fosters better understanding of student growth and/or needs. Taking the time to survey and organize, can turn a seemingly impossible task into a meaningful discussion between the most important adults in our students’ lives.
Amy Smedley is the instructional coach at Avery Elementary.