It’s that time of the year again, the time when we share important information about our student’s progress with their families. Parent-teacher conferences are wonderful opportunities to build bridges between home and school. But when you’re faced with doing 2 dozen or more of these meetings back-to-back, it can be daunting.
Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran teacher, here’s how you can prepare for, and organize, your parent-teacher conferences this year.
1. Send a pre-conference letter.
Not only does a letter get parents thinking about conferences, but it can also get them engaged. Include a section that asks for specific questions or concerns that parents want to cover at the conference. There could be a box to check that they have no questions or concerns at this time. See this free sample letter. Manage parent expectations by explaining the conference process and the need to stick to the schedule. Include clear directions on how to sign up for a timeslot.
Pro Tip: Send out the pre-conference letter as a Google form.
2. Schedule enough time.
Not all conferences have to last the same amount of time. Take each student into account and schedule extra time to discuss those who are struggling. You will need to have a more thorough conversation with those parents. You also will want to schedule more time with parents who have a lot of questions. (You’ll know from the pre-conference letters.) Offer flexibility, such as a Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype options for parents who cannot make it to school. They will appreciate that.
Pro Tip: Use a scheduling tool like Calendly or appointment slots on Google Calendar to allow parents to sign up for timeslots that are in-person and/or virtual.
3. Create a script and agenda.
You have a tight timeframe to accomplish a lot. That’s why writing down what you will cover will help. Start by sharing something positive about the student. Then summarize learning goals. Review student grades and work. Share student strengths and areas for growth. Answer questions and give your contact information. Remember that this is just a snapshot, and you can follow up as needed.
4. Gather student work and assessments.
Now that you know what you’re going to cover, it’s time to gather test results and other assessments, work samples, and anecdotal notes for your students. Then you’ll need to separate them by student in folders. Include any behavior concerns. Be honest in a caring way, and stress opportunities for growth.
Pro Tip: Ask students to choose work samples – one piece they are proud of and one where they feel they can improve.
5. Create a waiting space.
Inevitably, parents will show up early or you will run late and they will be waiting. Prepare a sign for the door that tells parents that you are still in a conference. When you are ready for them, you can invite them into the classroom. You also can create a small station where waiting parents can write notes to their children and put them in a class mailbox.
Pro Tip: If you have a classroom device, you can invite parents to leave a funny selfie to surprise their children.
6. Be welcoming.
Greet parents warmly. Sit side-by-side with them as you talk. It’s more friendly and non-threatening than sitting across a desk and sends the message that you are truly partners in their child’s education. Use positive body language. Finally, if parents have to bring their children, have an area set aside with puzzles and quiet activities to limit distractions.
Pro Tip: Prepare for parents who may have a language barrier. In these instances, you can invite them to bring the student to translate or you can ask them to have an interpreter on hand.
7. Encourage questions.
You will likely do most of the talking in a parent-teacher conference. Yet you do want to get parent input. Ask at least twice if they have any questions. Share how they can help their child at home. For example, students struggling with getting homework done can use a planner and parents can check it every night. Make sure that parents have your email address in case they need to contact you following the conference.
8. Remain professional.
You are representing the school. Don’t talk negatively about other teachers or administrators or complain about school policies. Never discuss other students’ behavior. If a parent becomes hostile, don’t argue. Use active listening. Discuss how both parties want what’s best for the child. Invite the parent to a follow-up conversation with you and the administration.
9. Set an alarm.
Your parents may need a cue that the conference is wrapping up. Set an alarm on your phone or another device to ring five minutes before you have to end. This will be a polite reminder that you have other families to see. If more time is needed with this particular parent, now is the time to schedule a follow-up conversation.
10. Practice self-care.
During conference week, you’ll likely log long hours. That’s why self-care is so important. Get enough sleep. Bring snacks and water. Schedule and take bathroom breaks. Plan a low-key, relaxing time leading into, and following, the conferences so that you can recharge.
Pro Tip: Some schools offer free childcare for teachers during conference week. Babysitting is done by PTO volunteers or high school students. Check if this is a possibility.
Finally, consider alternatives to and/or additions to parent-teacher conferences. Student showcases, group conferences, kid conferences, and grade-level dialogues are a few examples of how your district can reinvent the traditional parent-teacher meeting.
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