Parent/Teacher Conferences have the potential to be a very informative and rewarding part of teaching. However, to many teachers, it can also be stressful. Whether your conferences involve only teachers and parents, or if your school conducts student-led conferences, the goal is to use the limited amount of time you have to provide a meaningful experience for all involved. How is that possible? Here are some things to consider:
#1 Preparation. Time spent organizing can help each conference be effective and efficient. When planning conferences, think about the information you want to share with parents and consider how you can prepare your students.
Gathering Information. While academic strengths and challenges are certainly top priorities during conferences, adding behavioral elements to the conversation can reap bonuses. Consider noting each student’s behavioral strengths and challenges. For instance, how does the student do at Following Instructions or Staying on Task? Is the student able to Accept “No” For an Answer or Disagree Appropriately? Please keep in mind, no parent wants to hear a litany of how his/her child can do better. Accentuate the positive. List 3-4 behavioral strengths the child has and limit the challenges to one behavior that can used as an attainable goal.
These notes can help you with the next step in planning for conferences by preparing your students.
Preparing Students. Conference time can be just as stressful for students as it is for teachers. There may be so many unknowns for the student- “What is the teacher going to say about my grades?” “Does the teacher think I’m doing by best or slacking off?” To help alleviate student anxiety regarding conferences, take time to talk with each student about information that you will share and the information the student would like you to share. Discuss with each student what they see are their own strengths and challenges. Asking questions such as “What do you do well? What is hard for you?” “What kind of help could you use to get better at . . . ?” Students may answer these questions with a focus on academics. However, many academic struggles may be due to the inability to use an appropriate social skill. For example, does the student use the skills of Getting the Teacher’s Attention or Accepting a Criticism? Once you have had that conversation with the student, together come up with an agreement of what information to share at the conference. Having a plan of important points to cover that the student has had a voice in can lead to less anxiety for the student and a more effective conference and purposeful goal for the future.
#2 Conferencing. It is important to stick to the plan you created with each student. Make sure you have your preparation notes available. Also, be sure to take notes during the conference as well. This will not only help keep you on track but will also provide information to guide your future goals for the student.
During each conference, it will be beneficial to follow a structure for providing information and providing the parent an opportunity to have input. Here is a format you can use to start and end the conference on a positive note while still providing key information:
Start with a positive greeting. Introduce yourself, smile and make a positive comment about the student. Parents want to know that you know their child.
Praise positive gains the student has made. Here is where you want to take time to note both academic and behavioral strengths. When noting behavioral strengths, remember even the most challenging students do some things well. The skill can be as basic as the child looks at you when you are talking to her or as complex as the child is able to work well with others on a group project. Remember too, we want to accentuate the positive. Be sure to let parents know at least 3-4 things the student does well.
Discuss what you and the student determined to be a challenge. Here is where you can guide the conversation into providing information and a goal. Remember, it is best to focus on one attainable goal. While a goal of getting a better grade may be the focus, being more specific can make the goal more reachable. For example, in order to get a better grade, the student may need to be able to use the skill of Asking for Help when things get difficult. Using the appropriate social skill can lead to more academic success.
Ask the parent for their input. A parent/teacher conference should not be a one-way conversation. The more we can get parents involved in the conversation the more likely they be helpful moving their child toward his/her goal. Ask parents if the plan sounds doable or if they have additional thoughts to help it be more successful.
End the conference on a positive note. Thank the parent for attending the conference.
#3 Follow-Up. Open, productive communication with parents should not begin at conferences nor should it end there either. Make it a goal to reach out to parents with an update on the conference conversation. Let them know the gains the student has made toward the goal. Also let them know the steps you and the student are taking should there be a setback. Follow the same format as you did for the conference. Start with a positive greeting. Praise what the student is doing well. Discuss the next steps in helping the student be successful. Ask for the parent’s input and end the conversation on a positive note. You can choose the communication venue that works best for you and the parent. Regular communication with parents is more important than whether you decide to send a note, email or make a phone call.
Parent/Teacher conferences are an important tool in helping students reach their potential both academically and behaviorally. Make them as efficient and effective as possible.
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