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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Payoff for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

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.

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Kristin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a true problem. Even I can remember in high school during conferences I would ask my parents if they are going and they would always comment on if you are having problems the teacher will contact us. I think if parents are expecting their children to take school seriously and to always try herd, then thry too need to show some effort and be there at important funtions such as parent teacher conferences.

Kyle Twohig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an eighth grade math teacher in a rural school district. We just had parent teacher conferences. The way that we do them is that parents come in with or without their child and meet with teachers on a first come first serve basis. I have previously taught three years of elementary school where we had scheduled conferences twice a year. The conferences in the elementary school were student lead. I feel that the scheduled conferences were more beneficial than the middle school conferences. As a teacher I could plan for conferences and be prepared for each individual student. I also liked the fact that the student played a major role in the conference. We talked about the student's goals and looked at a portfolio to see if the student was achieving those goals. Having the planned conferences also assured that you would meet with each family. Meeting with each family isn't possible in the middle school, but it would be nice to ensure that I could meet with the students who are in need of guidance. I still have my students set goals for themselves and keep a sample of their work, but there is no way to meet with all of my 100 students' families and do each student justice in the amount of time allotted for conferences. A solution to the time problem may be to provide more time to conference with parents. Some of the in-service we have could be used for conferencing. We do have a team planning time that we use to meet with parents of low performing students, but I am concerned about the gray area students that are just getting by slipping through the cracks.

Meghan Bearley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jodi! I am a third grade teacher in Illinois and like you find by third grade parents are not active in their child's education. There have been many children throughout the years whose parents I never meet. In my district, the K-5 parents can only receive their child's first quarter report card by attending the P/T Conferences. This mandatory action does seem to increase participation, but there are still a few parents who do not attend. I like the ideas Bob presented in his posting about children being involved in the conference especially in middle/high school. I've decided this year with P/T Conferences approaching to have each of my students fill out a survey about their academic and behavioral successes and to set goals for second quarter. I think it will be interesting to see the child's perspective. This new approach to the traditional P/T Conference hopefully will increase parent participation and help their children to be more successful as the year progresses.

Melody Gammans's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have just came home from attending my 7th grader and 9th grader's parent teacher conferences. To be honest, I would never have gone if it wasn't for the fact they are getting extra credit for me attending. I find this very ironic that I would even not think of going considering I just told one of the parents of my student in my classroom she had to attend. I know from my perspective that I keep in daily contact with my children's teachers through e-mail, especially my 7th grader who does not do very well in school. I am more relaxed with my freshman, because she is in honors classes and always brings home A's. For her an A- is very truamatic. I did notice that having moved from teaching middle school to elementary, it is easier to get the elementary parents involved and to attend. I start losing contact with them about 3rd grade. I know in middle school the only way I got parents in is when I bribed them with beanie babies back when they were popular and hard to find. I agree that we need to keep parent involvement in the upper grades and I am going to try to remember that with my own children.

Nikki B's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our conferences are schedule for 15 minutes per parent. It is a fast assembly line. I go through the grades and then there is no time to talk and get to know each other. I think conferences are a great tool if done correctly. Conferences are for boosting up students as well as making goals for next time.

Patrick M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our conferences are also 15 minutes long. They are an assembly line. I agree with everything you wrote. I just wanted to add some things. Most of the parents that make appointments for conferences are the parents of honor roll students. That is why the students are honor roll students. Their parents emphasize education and actively participate in the process. We don't see the parents we need to see. I would love to see every parent of every student each year. But I teach over 300 students a year in high school and seeing everyone is impossible. I wonder how our school can create a better way to orchestrate conferences.

Carol Curtis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We are a PreK-12 school with 440 total students ... all under one roof. At our 5th-8th grade level (Middle School), we use a student-led conference model. Students prepare a presentation for their parents to demonstrate what they have learned, need to learn, and how they will learn it. This presentation is practiced and includes visuals prepared and selected by the student. The students and parents come at any time during the conference sessions. This us between 12:30 -8:00 p.m. on the conference day. We set up tables in the gym (7th/8th) and cafeteria (5th/6th). Each family meets at a table and the student presents. When done, the parents use a colored cup system to indicate which teacher they wish to talk with. The teachers move throughout the room to talk with parents and students. (Yellow- science; green - math, etc.) This model has worked wonderfully. Parents enjoy having the conference led by their child. Often we hear that this is the first time that the student has actually said much about what's going on in school.

Jessie Gomez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that parents meeting with teachers several times a year is important becuase it updates parents with alot of inforamation about the children. Its important that teachers and parents have a good relationship to benefit the student. Teachers have alot of respect for those parents that are involve in their children's learning and learning environment.

Gina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a special education teacher, there are often times I schedule a conference or an IEP meeting and parents choose not to attend. I think it is excellent when teachers and parents work together. It facilitates a more successful environment for their child. However, it needs to be wanted by both the teacher and the parent, and they both need to be willing to learn and make necessary changes after these conferences.

Mirjam Biegen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you Jessie,

As teachers, we need to foster a close relationship with parents so that we can cooperate intelligently in the education of children. Enlighting parents about the needs of their children is vital. Parents need to understand the educational situation of their children and to discover their needs in order to formulate plans for the satisfaction of those needs.

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