When my children were growing up I looked forward each year to the first parent conference. As an elementary principal, I thought I was well prepared to learn about my children’s progress and to be a helpful partner in their education.
When my first child was in kindergarten, we were notified that we were scheduled for a 25-minute conference. After arriving and introductions, my wife and I sat down at a Kindergarten table in Kindergarten-size chairs. The teacher started off with an overview of my daughter’s adjustment to school and then showed us a picture of a child. Only one problem, the teacher handed us a picture of the wrong child! Only after I said that this picture was not our child and I showed her a picture of our daughter did the teacher realize that she had made a mistake!
Parent-teacher conferences are excellent opportunities for teachers to communicate effectively with parents, building trust and inviting parents to be more involved in their child’s education.
Needless to say, my wife and I didn’t have much confidence in what the teacher had to say about our daughter. As the conference went on, the teacher spent most of the time going over classroom routines and discipline procedures. Finally when it was getting close to the end of our time, I asked the teacher how my daughter was doing in language arts and math. After some vague answers, the conference came to a close. That conference was over 30 years ago, but I still remember how I felt conferencing with a teacher who was not prepared and did not know my child.
Parent-teacher conferences are excellent opportunities for teachers to communicate effectively with parents, building trust and inviting parents to be more involved in their child’s education. As a school administrator, you want to do everything you can to set the standards and prepare your staff for highly successful parent conferences.
The success of parent-teacher conferences depends greatly on how much value and preparation the school administrator puts into the following crucial steps.
Critical Components of Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences
Starting with your adopted school calendar, build days for Parent-Teacher conferences, including afternoon and evening times so parents can attend after the workday. For example, have a parent conference day begin for the teacher at noon for last-minute prep, with conferences starting at 1:00 p.m. and continuing into the evening. The goal is to have 100% of the parents attend the conferences. Many schools may advertise a hospitality table with a small gift or snack given out as they arrive and/or no student homework due the following day.
Provide a standard rubric that includes all subject areas and other weekly classes, study habits, effort and behavior. This will serve as a organization/discussion tool to ensure the teachers cover the most important areas of achievement and those items that are interfering with their students’ progress.
Provide parents with sample questions to help them get the most information about their child’s progress.
- What is my child’s reading level?
- How is my child’s reading fluency?
- What can I do as a parent to help support my child’s reading and school success?
- Is my child growing in math competence and confidence?
- Is my child making friends and participating in all activities?
Preparing and printing sufficient copies of a conference form provides the teacher and parent with convenient documentation of the meeting. Also, provide a conference evaluation form for each parent to complete and drop off in a box on the way out of school. This will provide the teachers and administration feedback on how parents felt about the conferences.
Set the Tone:
The school administrator must insist that every family be given the opportunity to have parent conferences for each of their children. Administrators can be supportive if teachers are having difficulty getting parents to set up a conference. A phone call from the Head of School to encourage the parent(s) to make time for a conference is usually very effective. Administrators must be visible and available during this scheduled conference day. This is not the time to get a lot of work done in your office.
Provide PD for Teachers for More Effective Conferences:
While some teachers intuitively know that a well-organized conference is valuable in starting a positive parent-teacher relationship, some teachers may not and most may not know where to start. An effective conference that includes a welcome by the teacher and positive comments about their child shows parents that the teacher has taken the time to get to know their child.
Next the teacher should share what the major areas are they are studying and how well the student is learning each of the skills. (This data should come from the rubric prepared ahead of time.) During this sharing time encourage teachers to allow parents to ask questions.
As the conference time comes to a close, end the conference with a summary and a clear plan of action for the child to make progress.
Lastly, schedule follow up communication to set a clear path for the appropriate follow up. Encourage your teachers to document this succinct plan and follow up. (Providing the carbonless conference forms for your teachers that provide duplicate copies for parents to take and teachers to file fit this purpose nicely!)
The above tools and recommendations for successful parent-teacher conferences can make regularly-scheduled, school-wide parent conferences an integral part of your positive school culture and greatly reduce frustration of parents and teachers by truly building a partnership between home and school.
I know that in today’s world there are so many ways to communicate with parents via email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, phone calls, teacher’s web pages, etc. All of these venues are useful, but nothing communicates better than someone who cares enough to set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss a parent’s most precious asset: their children. As an administrator, you set the standard by your actions, so set the tone, provide the materials and lead the way. Everyone will benefit including you!
This blog was written by Budd Dingwall. Reach out with feedback or to discuss ways I can provide professional development and consulting at your school: firstname.lastname@example.org.