Parent Conferences: The Good, The Bad, The Effective

The likelihood is you either just had or will be having parent conferences at your school. For me, parent conferences have always been a time of anticipation mixed with anxiousness. When I say that I refer to my conferences as both a parent and as an educator.

During this school year, I have spoken to both parents and teachers as well as seen the social media posts regarding parent conferences. What do these two groups hope/expect from the Parent Conference?

Some quotes from teachers:

“Understanding”
“Collaborating”
“Express what their child wants to achieve (“no concerns” is often heard)”
“Teachers want to use it as a chance to convey their difficulties with students versus parents only want to hear how great the student.”
‘Dichitomy between parent and teacher expectations of the parent conferences.’
“Teachers need to be ready with suggestions for parent support.”

From parents:

‘Help me understand what happens in school.’
‘I don’t want to teach my child at home.’
‘How can I help …. do better.’
“Don’t just tell me what is wrong with my child, tell me some good too.”

Clearly what we all want (parents and educators) are effective parent conferences. We all want to use this time as a means of communication and action planning. So what can we do to create this effective communication environment? One teacher I spoke to summed it up:

For teachers:

  1. Be prepared to show student’s portfolio of academic performance.
    In other words, have student work available to demonstrate their growth.
  2. Have resources available if there are signs of needing support, such as names of speech/language or OT therapists, or the email of the resource person in the school. For therapists this can just be a listed of local support people with the disclaimer that this is just a list with no recommendations.

For parents:

  1. Prepare a list of questions or concerns ahead of time.
  2. Ask what you can do at home to support your child’s academic success.

Here is a great graphic from Katie Martin (@katiemartinedu) about parents and conferences:

Maybe sending out these parent suggestions the week before conferences, or when the schedule goes out, may be helpful. When a parent misses Parent Conferences, we educators often jump to the conclusions that they don’t care enough to attend. Parents, with very few exceptions, want the best for their children. I have discovered that this may not always be the case. Many can not take off from their jobs because any time away from work results in an inability to pay rent, buy food or the many school supplies that students may need. Paying a babysitter is a luxury some can not afford. And some parents are tired of hearing the negative from the teachers (this will be another blog post on sending out positive messages more often than negative). 

If a parent misses a conference, reach out by phone or email. Try to set up a phone conference. The parent will likely feel encouraged that you care enough about their child to want to speak with them about the child’s educational growth. This will go a long way in getting the support from the parent you (and the child) need. Just recently, well after the official parent conferences,  a teacher emailed me asking if I could teach her classroom in the next few days as a parent finally agreed to come in for a conference. Kudos to that teacher for her persistence!

This year, one school I work with, had the teachers fill out parent conference guides. This was a place to write positives, concerns, assessment scores, a place for parent concerns to be written, and a reminder to have work samples available. The consensus was that this helped the teachers remember to include positive comments as well as everything else they wanted to say. 

So I am thinking that maybe we all need to remember that the definition of confer includes: consult, have discussions, discuss things, exchange views, and talk. Also we should remember that a person is being discussed not an abstract idea.

“So, how do you or your school encourage effective parent conferences?” Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

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