After all the start-of-the-year craziness passes, teachers have a small window to breathe before gearing up for the first round of parent-teacher conferences. These are not to be dreaded, though. Instead, they're an excellent opportunity for teachers to show off the amazing work that students are doing in class, and also to have important conversations with parents about supporting students that are struggling. Since we started doing parent-teacher conferences at the high school level, I've picked up a few practices that have made these meetings wonderfully smooth.
1. Communication Is Key
While it's easy to get buried in start-of-the-year work, it's important to keep communication open with parents. The more communication that comes from the teacher, the less miscommunication there's likely to be at the meeting. As a teacher, you can start a blog, create a newsletter that students take home, email parents with updated grades, create a Twitter account or Facebook page with class updates, set up a Remind account that parents can join to receive text updates about class, and make phone calls home. These are just a few ways to keep in contact with parents during the school year. When they're informed about what's happening in class, the conversations in the meeting can be far more productive because everyone is on the same page.
2. Keep Data Handy
I like to keep an iPad at my desk for parents to use during our meetings. I enter all grades into an online gradebook that parents can access from home. If they want to discuss grades, I can have them pull up the grades on the iPad while I review them on my Chromebook. Sharing a folder of student work with parents is equally effective. Have students choose the work that they want their parents to see, and have it ready when the conference begins. Meetings are much better when everyone has the work in front of them. If you've sent progress updates before the meeting, parents might even come in with the grades already printed out. If the data is ready at hand, the conversation can focus on the student and his work without skipping a beat.
3. Balance the Conversation
One thing that I've always done to support a conversation about students is to balance the good with the bad. For every comment I had about where a student needs to focus, I'd always have a comment about one of their strengths. Parents often have an idea of where the student struggles, but they don't always get to see or hear about the success stories in class. Just noting the little things can make a parent's day. If a student is struggling in her writing, I'll comment on that aspect of her work in class, but I'll always make sure to point out that she never gives up and is always respectful of others during class conversation. Parents always light up when they hear something nice about their child. By equally focusing on the positive, parents won't come to associate teacher meetings as negative encounters.
4. Invite the Student
I've always found it odd that students don't play an active role in these meetings. It's usually adults talking about student work without the student being there to respond or share what he's thinking. Parents and teachers exchange ideas in school that are then passed from parents to students at home. Why not have the student sitting right there next to the parents? At the high-school level, I think it's critical for students to take ownership of their learning and participate in these important conversations. I invite students to attend these meetings, and while only a few do, they walk away with a better understanding of what's expected from them at home and at school. Also, the student sees a united front of support with the parents and teachers working together. How can students truly feel like they have a say in their education when we're excluding them from one of the more important conversations about their education?
5. Candy Always Helps
For years, I've been setting up a big bowl of suckers on the table when parents walk in. It's a wide variety of suckers that have been the favorites of many children and adults for decades. People are generally happier when they have candy. This is part of creating a welcoming environment. Try to have comfortable chairs for the parents during the meeting, make sure that you're sitting close at the table with them, set out water or other snacks, a plant always helps -- really, anything that creates a more welcoming environment is worth the effort. Parents come into these meetings with their own thoughts on teachers and education, and these might not always be positive. Creating an environment that puts them at ease will make sure that everyone has a more pleasant conversation.
There are so many more ways that teachers can prepare for parent-teacher conferences. Some love having students present their work to the parents, others have stations set up around the room that showcase various completed student projects, and others favor soothing background music. We all have different ways to reach parents and share the amazing things that their students are doing in our classroom. Find the formula that works best for you, and put it in place so that parents are ready to work with you to support their child.
If you have any tips or tricks about getting ready for parent-teacher conferences, please leave them in the comments below so that we can all add more tools to our belt.