As a teacher, parent conferences are a chance to touch base with parents about academic growth, behavior, parent participation hours and attendance. But how do you make sure these conferences don’t just inform parents about but help to engage them in their child’s education?
In my time at Rocketship I have tried to make my classroom conferences a sort of “classroom visit” – as close to a home visit as possible, rather than something formal. I find this puts parents at ease and helps them feel even more engaged in the conference. It also makes those difficult conversations easier to have. When a child is having challenges at school, fostering collaboration with his parents is essential. Collaboration is impossible if either party is feeling “blamed” by the other. An engaging conference where parents leave feeling hopeful and included is best. Here are a few ways I have tried to foster “engaging conferences” in order to better engage parents.
1. Create a Calm and Inviting Environment
Clean up the clutter, take down the chairs and open the blinds! I also like to bring in “adult chairs” from the staff room. This is really important in the lower grades where student chairs only come up to my shins. However, the gesture is really acknowledging our parents are adults. They are not coming in to be lectured by the teacher, and should feel right away they are an equal part of their child’s success in school and beyond.
Quiet background music, some light snacks and bottled water or coffee, chairs in the hallway for waiting parents and coloring pages for other students or siblings are also nice touches. These details help show parents we are inviting them to be part of their student’s success in a non-threatening environment.
2. Be Fully Prepared
Make sure all report cards, resources and forms are printed and available for each conference. I also like to have everything stacked in the order conferences are scheduled to avoid digging through piles. If a parent survey is being given at this time, have a couple of Chromebooks set up so parents can take it right away. Try to get to school ten minutes before your first conference so you don’t keep parents waiting and schedule enough time for each conference. Some will take longer if difficult conversations have to happen. Many parents have to take time off of work to come, so valuing their time is a must.
3. Always Share Glows
All children have strengths. I am always very conscious of making sure I tell each parent at least one thing their child does well. Keeping portfolios is a way to make sure you can show progress, no matter how slow. I like to share a student’s writing portfolio. This is an area where every one of my students shows very visible progress. However, having those difficult conversations is just as important, so don’t be afraid to do so. One way to make these conversations easier is to keep them grounded in data. Portfolios can also help you show lack of progress, if that is a major concern. Grade level exemplars are also a great way to show parents what their students are striving for. If you don’t have an example of what their child is doing and what he should be doing, it is very hard for a parent to grasp what “not on grade level” means.
4. Complete Every Conference
There are always those families who, for whatever reason, don’t sign up for or show up to a conference. This is no excuse to skip this important interaction. Communicating the need to sign up in many and multiple ways is one way to ensure parents sign up. For our grade level, we usually put up our signup sheets two to three weeks in advance and send out notices and phone calls a week before conferences begin.
In addition, we set aside one or two days the following week to conduct the conferences with the parents when they come in to pick up their child (of course, give call these parents in advance to let them know). Though this is time consuming, I have found parents actually appreciate the extra effort and are willing to wait if I am meeting with another family.
Conferences can be stressful, time-consuming and even a little intimidating. Making sure they are engaging is no small task, but the extra effort puts parents at ease and shows them they are valued as an important part of their child’s education. As a teacher, this collaborative partnership with parents is a sure way to make your classroom an even happier place.
Chelsea is the Kindergarten Lead at Los Sueños, where she has been teaching for four years. Originally from Seattle, Washington she graduated from University of Washington with a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Chelsea enjoys being an integral part of her students’ development as their first teacher at Los Sueños. On the weekends, she spends time visiting the Campbell farmers market and other Bay Area attractions with her husband and 13 year old daughter.