Meeting with parents and keeping them informed is a crucial piece in a child’s academic education. The tri-annual conferences can help give us gain more insights into the lives of our students before and after school hours.
My first year during conferences, I was impossibly stressed and anxious because I knew how important it was and felt insecure about my lack of teaching experience despite years of school and a year of student teaching. I had everything set up – file folders with students’ names printed from a label maker, waters for parents, copious notes, and massive amounts of reports. Most of this was so unnecessary and quite overdone because my responses became scripted and I did not allow enough time for parents to get questions out or for students to share their learning experiences. Instead, I followed my own agenda and left students and parents feeling disregarded. Through this, I learned how important it is to build relationships with families before conferences and to make sure that there is time to hear from them and for them to hear their child’s perspective on their time in the classroom. While it may be difficult to communicate with some parents and families due to many different reasons, it is important to at least put forth the effort so that communication (positive and constructive when necessary) is at least being attempted.
Hear from Parents & Students
One of the first things I always wanted to do during a conference was to hear from the families. This would help me recognize what to focus on throughout the rest of the conference. If a parent or student shared a concern about struggling in math, I would know to give more resources for at home support in math. If a parent shared that they have a concern with behavior, I would know to spend some time focusing on social emotional learning and restorative practices.
Conferences can sometimes get off topic and parents will want to discuss other students. This can be difficult when communicating the importance of student privacy. I would always listen to the concerns and remind families that I am not comfortable discussing specifics of other students just as I would not discuss specifics of their child with someone else. I would assure them that their concerns are heard and that I appreciate them sharing their thoughts. Whenever possible, I would also explain the process that I would be taking to resolve the problem within the classroom so that academic learning is not interrupted. It is important for families to know and feel that their children’s success is kept at the center of all decisions. It is also important to bring it back to the purpose of conferences – to communicate successes and struggles so that academic growth continues throughout the rest of the school year.
Share the Positives and Negatives
Of course everyone has areas of growth! It is important to show that you also recognize what is being done well! If feedback is always constructive, it will lead to a consistent feeling of failure and prevent effort from being put forth. It is important to communicate what is being done well and to share the areas of growth with a positive outlook. If a student is struggling in one subject, share additional resources that can better support them. Share what strategies you are doing in class as well in order to better support the child. Instead of simply saying that someone is struggling in ____, add what you are doing in small group and how you are holding them accountable for improving.
Take the time to also get the students’ comments and feedback on this information. This will help them own their own learning because they will better understand the objective that they are working towards and leave the conference with strategies on how to get those objectives accomplished.
Make, share, and follow up on goals during these conferences. That way, families at home are also supporting their child in accomplishing the goals at hand.
Have an Agenda, but be Flexible
There are definitely topics that must be discussed during conferences: academic growth, areas of struggle, character strengths, etc. These are, of course, all important topics to be covered; however, they should not be the only things that are discussed. As you hear from the parents and the students, their comments can help you understand more about what they need to feel supported and successful.
There are times when the scheduled time slot is simply not enough to get everything covered. If this is the situation, a follow-up can be coordinated with the family. When this happens, explaining that you understand there is more to discuss and will follow up with them shortly regarding their individual questions, makes sure that their concerns are still addressed and action is being taken. I would also suggest asking how best to contact them – email, note home, Class Dojo, phone call, etc.
Hear from them! If a student or parent is asking you for something that is going to make them more successful, make a note of it and talk to your team or colleagues and see what you can find to better support them.
We have so many classes and resources and staff members with prolific ideas that sometimes, it is just a matter of telling parents what we are offering:
- Financial Classes
- ILE at home
- Class Dojo & Facebook messenger for communication
- Free WiFi locations in the community
Keep notes or reminders of what the students or parents are communicating. This can be very helpful when you see them next or when you are sharing the resources that would be helpful for them. This should definitely be individualized by the student.
Whether you are doing student-led conferences (see the next section for more on that) or parent/teacher conferences, make sure that your follow-up is relevant to everything the parents and students shared during their conference. This is definitely a time to talk with your team or some of our specialty teachers to get more resources or strategies to share!
Student Led Conferences
Student led conferences help students take more ownership in their learning and encourages a more collaborative conference experience. When the students share what they are learning, how they are progressing academically, and their areas of growth, it gives them the ability to iterate what their successes and needs are academically. This is more powerful than hearing it from someone else because the students are closer to internalizing their academic experience when they are responsible for sharing their progress.
Resources and strategies for student led conferences:
Conference times can be exciting and/or hectic, but if we always keep in mind that this is our time to hear from parents and students and communicate what is happening in our classrooms, we can be sure that they are effective and purposeful. Keeping communication and focus on being transparent about our academic procedures can make our conferences go smoothly and help develop positive relationships within our school community.