How to Best Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences
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I know that parent-teacher conferences can feel really intimidating in your first year of teaching, but they don't have to be something that you dread.
Let's talk about some of the things I’ve learned over the years that can set you up for having some of the best parent teacher conferences possible.
To help break this down, step-by-step, I’ve divided this episode into three sections: things to do before conferences, what to do during conferences, and what to do following conferences.
Also, you definitely want to download the freebie I have prepared for you for this episode:
All right, let's dive into today's topic.
How to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences
Before the Conferences Start:
- First, I highly recommend that you create a one-page overview of “Report Card Comments” for each child. I’ve included a sample for you in the freebie for this episode so you can see how I set up mine, but yours will likely be different, depending on your report card.
Using this one-page overview, look at each child’s report card and make note of specific things you want to talk about during the interview. Consider two or three areas where you feel this child is excelling or positives you want to share with the parents, and two or three areas that you want to see growth in, and then list these on this one page overview.
I like to use different colors for these topics so I can see them at a glance.
For me, green means go – so I use this color for the positives I want to express, and I use purple or pink are areas that I want them to work on. I don’t ever use red because I don't think anyone really has a positive connotation with red when it comes to school!
Then, pull any evidence, data, or assessments you have to support or illustrate what you want to talk about with their parents, both positive and areas of concern. And don’t limit this to just academic areas, but also personal growth and work habits, too.
- Next, be sure to include any resources that will support parents in helping their child, based on the 2 areas of growth you want their child to work on.
This might include a list of tips for how to help their child in reading, in writing, or in math at home, or there may be a book or a website you want them to check out for extra support.
- You might also want to prepare a list of questions that the parent might want to ask (I've included a list of sample questions for you in the freebie for this episode).
Sometimes parents have negative connotations with school based on their own experiences growing up, or they might be intimidated by school in general, or they just might not know what to ask.
Having a list of questions can help them to think about what they really want to know and to feel empowered to ask the questions they really want to.
- A lot of schools invite children to be present at conferences these days, and there is a growing trend towards student-led conferences as well.
Don't judge me for this - I'm honestly still not convinced that all of the extra work that is involved in student-led conferences is worth it. Many parents I’ve spoken with like the idea of them and think they’re great for kids, but too often, parents still feel like they need to schedule another conference with the teacher anyways because they haven’t gotten the information they needed or the time with the teacher that they really wanted to ask some specific questions.
If you’ve found a fantastic way to do student-led conferences, then that’s awesome. For me, I really believe that something in the middle is the best answer for both parents and children.
I have my students create a “Three Stars and Two Wishes” flipbook (included in the freebie for this episode) that they fill out with me before conferences begin while looking at their report card, supported by the work my students’ have collected in their portfolios. As we prepare, I reference my one-page overview of Report Card Comments so that we can talk about where they are doing well and maybe what they want to work on.
This way, when their parents come to the interview, I ask the child to help lead the discussion by sharing his or her Three Stars flipbook, while I elaborate and support what he/she says with examples.
This approach really helps children to feel involved and empowered, and helps parents to know that their child’s voice is heard and valued, and that we are working as a team to celebrate successes and help achieve goals.
What I also love about this is that I can brag children up, using specific examples, in front of their parents – which makes everyone much more receptive to having the conversation about working on challenging goals.
By the way, preparing in this way will also really help you to start to look forward to conferences because you will start to look forward to the opportunity to brag kiddos up in front of their parents and to celebrate all of the good you see in your students.
Parents only want the best for their children, so seeing that you love their child as well really can help to get everyone on the same team.
- If you use portfolios with your students, be sure to also have your students go through their portfolio a few days before the conference to find evidence of the Stars and Wishes they have already identified with you.
I give my students three yellow or green sticky notes for their three stars (numbered one to three), and two pink sticky notes for their wishes (evidence of what they need to improve on).
If you don’t use portfolios, be sure to collect any student notebooks or assessments to keep with that child’s Report Card Overview sheet so you are ready for the interview that evening.
In fact, I used to gather all of the notebooks for each child who had an interview that evening and place them in a sealed envelope outside the room for the parents to open and look through while they were waiting for their interview.
- You also may want to put any current research you have come across regarding student learning in relevant curriculum areas on display outside your classroom, as well as a copy of your current classroom newsletter.
- And finally, all appointments and your name should be clearly marked on the outside of your door. I also post a sign asking parents to knock if it is their scheduled time. This helps me to keep track of time, and I can either wrap up or schedule a second interview for the parent who requests more time.
Now, let’s talk about how you can set the stage for successful interviews.
The atmosphere in which you set up parent-teacher conferences should be welcoming and professional, so here are a few tips and ideas:
- An empty classroom, free of distractions, is best, and if it’s at all possible, do not sit across from the parent(s) with furniture between you such as a desk – if you can, sit side by side on adult chairs at equal height. We didn’t actually have any adult sized furniture in our classroom, so we sat at a round table at the back of my classroom, but it worked because we were all at the same height.
- You also might want to offer refreshments such as coffee/juice and mints or cookies. I often kept some cookies and mints on the table and had coffee available, and I know parents appreciated it!
- Also, some parents will need to bring their younger children with them, so be sure to provide books and toys for young children to play with while they’re waiting.
- Finally, you might want to consider putting a plant or some fresh flowers on the table with a bright tablecloth. I found that the more welcoming and inviting I made the space when we were having interviews, the more relaxed everyone was during this experience.
What Should Teachers Say (and Do) During the Conference?
Okay, so we’ve already talked quite a bit about how to set yourself up for conferences with the Report Card overview and the Three Stars and Two Wishes sheet, but here are some additional things to consider during interviews to ensure that everyone has a positive experience:
- First, be sure to greet parents and the student at the door with a warm welcome and a huge smile. This is going to set the tone for the entire interview, so be sure to start on a positive note.
- Next, open with a genuine, positive comment about their child, whether it be about the student’s attitude, work habits, or achievements.
- After reviewing the student’s Three Stars and Two Wishes sheet (and supporting documents) together, stay open to hearing the parent first. I know it can feel like you are on a pretty intense time schedule, but parents have waited a long time for their 15 minutes with you, so if they have something that they really want to talk to you about, let them have the floor.
- Although it can be hard, try to avoid rushing in to defend your practice. Do your best to display clarity and confidence in your own philosophy and classroom practice and remain open to suggestions and to working together.
- When you’re discussing behavior problems and educational issues, stick to the facts and support what you are saying with specific incidents and/or work samples.
- Keep writing to a minimum during the interview, but keep brief notes about what was discussed.
- Be sure to stay on schedule! Parents may have other interviews scheduled for siblings of the child in your class, or other appointments to be at.
- Finally, if a parent becomes verbally abusive, stop the conference and arrange to meet at a different date (with administrative support if necessary).
Concluding the Conference: How Do I Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences?
At the end of each conference, be sure to:
- Summarize the important topics of discussion and reflect parents’ statements back to them and do further inquiry if necessary.
- Be sure to establish goals for the next term (no more than 3) and give parents a copy.
- Review the plan of action to be sure everyone (including you), understands and agrees.
- Ask parents if they have any further concerns.
- End with another positive comment about the student.
- Thank the parents (and the student) for coming and for their continued support.
- Write short anecdotal notes once the parents leave (if possible!) to remind you of further plans of action.
- Add any items to your “Post-Conference To Do List” (also included in the freebie for this episode) to remind you of follow-up after the conference, including extra work/support/enrichment to be sent home, student/teacher contracts, phone calls, referrals, etc.
All right, so there you have it! Everything you need to experience well organized and successful parent-teacher conferences. I hope that you have found this information helpful as you prepare for this exciting event. This is going to be fun, remember?
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I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember - just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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