It’s Parent-Teacher Conference time again and that means we’re all scrambling to gather work samples, fill out report cards, schedule meetings, and try to not lose our minds. Conferences can be a very stressful time for teachers and remote/hybrid learning isn’t making it any easier. Here are some helpful tips to make sure you have productive and smooth parent conferences whether they are in person or online.
Try A Scheduling App
Scheduling conferences can truly be a nightmare. There is so much work that goes into planning 25+ meetings, and if your school doesn’t provide any structure for scheduling, it can quickly become overwhelming. To ease the process, you might want to try a scheduling app. If your school already uses an online communication tool like parentsquare, check to see if there is a scheduling feature. If not there are online tools you can sign up for on your own like calendly or signupgenius. With scheduling apps, you can set your schedule and send it to parents and they can choose the time on their own. Usually, the app will also send reminders for you! How easy is that?
If All Else Fails, Make a Paper Schedule
Paper scheduling is the tried and true method, although it can be a logistical challenge. Here’s what I do to make it as smooth as possible. First, create a schedule for your conferences and send a copy home with each student or post it in your virtual classroom. For paper forms, show all the time slots and ask parents to choose a few that work for them. As the forms come back, use a checklist to keep track of who has scheduled their conferences and start filling in a master schedule. With an online shared document on google docs, parents can just add their names to whatever slots are available.
After a week or two, call parents who have responded and sign them up for a time slot over the phone. Once the schedule is complete and each family has booked a time, send out the master schedule, post it outside your classroom and email it to parents as well. It’s always a good idea to send a text or email reminder to parents a day or two before the conference so they don’t forget. This will really help minimize no shows and rescheduling.
Sometimes conferences feel scary because there is some not so great news that needs to be shared. However, the best way to manage these conversations is if everyone is prepared. It’s always a good idea to have ongoing communication with students’ families, that way you know what’s worrying them, and they know what’s worrying you. No one wants to be blindsided during a parent-teacher conference. Leading up to conference time, try to touch base with those parents you’ll need to have difficult conversations with. Share the issues you are seeing with their child and ask for their input and support in finding solutions. Then try to keep them updated on progress as much as you can. That way they already know that you’ll be talking about the issue at the conference.
Protect yourself from surprises too by giving parents an opportunity to share what they’d like to discuss during the conference. On your conference form or scheduling invite, ask them about what questions and concerns they’d like to discuss during the meeting. This will also give you time to prepare your response and structure your meeting around any special topics that need to be discussed.
One the best things you can do for yourself around parent conference time is to stay super organized. When you are having multiple back to back meetings, forget about having time to go hunt down something that you forgot about. I always make a folder for each student on my computer or in a physical hanging file box, and stash important work samples, assessments, writing samples, etc. in the folder throughout the year. Make sure to download or print reports from any online programs you are using like Zearn, Class Dojo and Lalilo and add these to the folders too. Then when conferences come around everything you need is already in one place. Before conferences, go through each folder and get the files and papers in order so that you are ready to discuss them with parents.
This is a also good time to gather up resources you are planning to send home with parents and add them to the folder as well. It’s very helpful to include copies of any rubrics you used and attach them to work samples so you can discuss them with parents while you are setting goals, talking about student work, and/or report cards.
During the Conference
Once you’ve got all the students’ folders organized, you can just open or grab it and get started when families arrive. Remember to always start with the positive. There is something special about every kid in your class. Sharing this with parents will put both of you at ease to start the meeting. Showing that you know their child and care about them, goes a long way in building relationships with parents. So give as many compliments as possible and focus on strengths first.
Make sure to focus your discussion on work samples rather than report cards. Go for the latest assessments and important pieces of classwork. It’s a good idea to use the same things for each student if possible. I recommend comparing students’ work to a rubric rather than to another students’ work. It could send a message to the child and their family that you are comparing them to their classmates, when really you are comparing them to the grade level benchmarks and standards. Using a rubric keeps things a little more objective. Go through the student work subject by subject, taking notes, setting goals and asking for questions along the way. If the student is attending the conference, be sure to ask them to share what they are proud of and how they want to improve. Most importantly, be honest. If a child is struggling, their parents need to know what the issue is, how you plan to address it, and how they can support it at home. You can use the Parent Conference Notes Page to set goals and keep track of what you discussed with each parent during your conferences.
How do you feel about parent conferences at your school? How do you prepare for them? Comment below with your best parent conference tips!