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The Payoff for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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My children are in the fifth and seventh grades. At least twice a year, my wife and I meet with their teachers to set goals, to review their progress towards these goals, and to agree about how we can all best support our children's learning at home and at school. Why is it that after elementary school, this important practice often comes to an end?

At Envision Schools, advisers schedule a conference two or three times a year for each student. (See my previous blog post to learn more about the Envision Schools advisory program.) These meetings, which students lead, also include parents and significant mentors. More than 90 percent of our parents take advantage of this opportunity, so we know parents generally want to stay engaged when their kids are in high school.

At these conferences, students reflect on what they've learned, what they consider to be areas for growth (for example, grades or skills they can improve) and long-term goals (such as what college they plan to attend). In addition, advisers will review student transcripts and highlight any concerns about progress toward graduation. At this time, advisers will also review key benchmark assessments in language arts and math and will plan any interventions that may be necessary to address learning gaps or credit deficiencies. (Download a PDF of the form they complete as a record of the meeting.)

Finally, parents will review current benchmarks or graduation-portfolio work so they can see progress firsthand and become a part of this very important process side-by-side with their children.

These family conferences are a great tool for our teachers to get to know their students and their families better. The connections teachers, students, and parents make at these meetings lead to better communication and, most important, a partnership that spans a student's four years at an Envision School.

We use these conferences to get both the student and the parents invested in the hard work it will take to get the student to graduation prepared for college success. Are there other ways schools and teachers are engaging parents in supporting their students' learning? If so, please share them.

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

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Corinne M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The conferences in my school are also limited to minutes. There is never enough time to discuss the students strengths and weaknesses or ways to improve. I agree that most of the conferences that I have had are with parents of students that are doing well.
My district offers 2 days and 2 nights to schedule appointments which is good for parents who may work hours other than 9 to 5. But we only offer them now, in November. What happens in February or April? It should be offered throughout the year.

Corinne M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The conferences in my school are also limited to minutes. There is never enough time to discuss the students strengths and weaknesses or ways to improve. I agree that most of the conferences that I have had are with parents of students that are doing well.
My district offers 2 days and 2 nights to schedule appointments which is good for parents who may work hours other than 9 to 5. But we only offer them now, in November. What happens in February or April? It should be offered throughout the year.

Sandra T.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a kindergarten educator and a parent of two elementary school aged children (and another entering kindergarten next year), I just don't understand why parents don't take advantage of meeting with their child's teacher one-on-one in an uninterrupted setting, whether it's for 15 minutes or longer. My husband and I both make sure we attend each of our children's conferences, discuss what we heard on the way home, and then review the teacher's praises and suggestions to our child, in hopes of uplifting their self-esteem and focusing on the areas of challenge.

Your insights about older students desiring autonomy makes sense. I also agree that with new technological advances, parents may acquire more information about their child's standings via the Internet. However, the personal interaction with the teacher is key toward working together for the benefit of the student. Additionally, parents often have impromptu questions for the teachers that often cannot be easily dialogued through e-mail. Conversing face-to-face is so much more effective.

Time seems to be a commodity in many parent's busy working lives. The only other reason I see that parents skip conferences is because they aren't willing to take the time, especially from work, to attend a short meeting.

I hope you are pleasantly surprised with your upcoming conference turnout.

Lesia Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think the student lead conference is an excellent idea. I have two children in high school, and I wish I had a schedule conference at once during each academic year. However, I do feel that a student lead conference would be appropriate for all circumstance, but this type of conference does place power into the students hands. Hopefully, it will cause the parents to become more involved knowing their child is taking an active interest in their own education and future plans.

Whit A's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have really enjoyed seeing how other schools and grade levels use conferencing to get the student, teacher, and parent involved. I believe that educational collaboration is most beneficial for students. "It takes a village...."

I teach first grade and beg for parents to come in and be involved in the classroom. I have not had much luck this year, but I have had many parents come in for at-risk meetings. These meetings must occur with teachers and parents three times a year. I like it because it gives us the opportunity to talk with parents and really explain the goals we have and how we plan to get there. I believe this helps get the parents more involved and can sometimes be a wake up call as to needing help or reinforcement at home. We also do student led conferences for grades 2-5. The students really take pride in showing off their classroom and their work. I enjoy seeing the students show their parents around the classroom. I think it really gives parents a chance to understand what is going on at school. School has changed so much over the years, especially how we are helping students learn. I think it is important to get the parents in (not just e-mail them results) and have them walk around in their child's shoes for a little while.

Lori Dupler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach grades 7 and 8 and how to get parents to take an interest in their child's progress is a huge mystery. Currently, we hold student-led conferences. About half of the parents actually bring their child and some parents don't show up for the conference period. I use methods such as posting comments on their grade cards, sending emails to parents both individually and as a group, and even phone calls. Most years I end up with around 6-7 scheduled conferences.
On the other hand, my children are in kindergarten and third grade, and their teachers don't have enough time to meet with all the concerned parents.
One possible solution might be to pair conferences up with something else going on that evening which may interest parents. I'm not sure what that might be, but perhaps a concert or dance. Parents may be in the neighborhood to drop off their child, which may make it more convenient for them.

Rebecca's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that you can have open coferences where all the teachers sit in the gym for 2 hours to allow for parents to come in and meet with the teachers. This way, it is not limited to those who have troublesome students. This of course would need to be in specific parent conferences due to issues at school.

Brenda M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At the international school where I am teaching, our elementary conferences are scheduled for 30 minutes. In most cases that is a sufficient amount of time to discuss the student, show any student work and answer any questions the parents may have. We also have two scheduled conferences every year, but are available anytime if a parent wants to come in more often. Our first conference is strictly a parent-teacher conference. The second conference is a student led conference. The student led conference is generally very successful because it is a way for the students to show their parents their improvements, but more importantly, the students must speak in English to their parents so it shows their improvement in their English skills. We are very careful to keep the student led conferences upbeat and focusing on the positives. Our current principal, however, does not like student led conferences so we may not be allowed to have them this year. One amazing thing about our elementary conferences is that we have an almost 100% parent turn out from our native parents. It is the ex-patriot parents who do not show up for the conferences.

Jen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The school that I teach in typically does a book fair and activity night during conferences which does help increase parent attendance. It is a great idea to have something else the same night of conferences but it is impossible to have something every night. Our conferences are an entire week long. There are so many "no shows" it is frustrating. I understand the importance of the conference, and would like to find a way to increase attendance. I think I am going to try to have students come and lead them this time around. What a great idea! Thank you!

Becky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like the idea of student led conferences. I feel that this practice gives ownership to the student for his/her learning, failures/successes, and helps the student construct positive goals. I feel that it is a very good idea and helps the parents and teacher get and stay connected with the student's progress. It is all about the importance of a teacher's personal connection with his/her students. Also, on this blog, many bloggers talked about how to get the parents to want to attend these type of conferences, since many parents, even at the elementary level, do not show an interest in the child's schooling. What can a teacher do to make conferences more interesting, so parents will want to attend?

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