- Set a positive, welcoming tone. Long before the conferences begin, send several positive communications in different formats (paper, e-mail, phone calls) about when they’re happening and the purpose of them. Make sure signing up is easy and there are plenty of time options so you don’t alienate parents with difficult schedules. And on the day of, consider the physical environment of the conversation to ensure families walk into a welcoming space that emphasizes the collaborative, positive intention of the meeting.
- Have an easy-to-follow format. Consider creating a template agenda for the conference so that it’s easy for you to plan everything out and easy for everyone in the meeting to follow along and record notes and next steps. Your grade-level team or leadership may have ideas for good topics and information to include.
- Ask questions. Spending time at the beginning learning more about your student and their family pushes the relationship forward as well as giving you important information that not only informs your teaching, but also informs how you might proceed through the rest of the conference. Some possible questions to ask:
- What are your child’s strengths? When are times you’ve seen her demonstrate these strengths?
- What do you want your child to get out of school/class this year?
- What are your goals/hopes/dreams for them?
- What does your child participate in outside of school?
- What is a typical school night like in your house?
- What was your experience in school like? Based on this experience, what can I do to improve on or replicate that experience?
- Share specific, personalized student information. Try to set aside time to identify personalized information about each student beyond simply grades to share. Whether it’s an anecdote that demonstrates something positive about the student or specific information about their progress, you want to make sure families know that you really know their child. And as much as possible, share the strengths each student has and how they can capitalize on those strengths to progress even more. Emphasizing strengths can go a long way in building your relationship with the student and family which will, in turn, make them more invested in your class.
- Seek collaborative solutions and action steps. Choose one or two focus areas for each student and seek input from parents on how to support the student in these areas. Note that they don’t have to be areas for concern, but might simply just be places you can work together to push the student forward. Families may have lots of ideas for what to do, be hesitant to share, or want you to take the lead on what to do. Either way, asking for their input and making sure there is some level of shared action is what’s important.
- Focus on student learning. In conferences it’s easy for the conversation to stray away from student learning, especially if you begin talking about behavior concerns. It’s important that you bring the conversation back to how it impacts student learning, so that everyone leaves focused not on changing a negative behavior, but on creating positive behaviors that support their child’s learning.
- Follow through and follow up. Lots of requests and next steps can come up in conferences and I was definitely guilty of losing track of many of them. But without follow-up and follow-through you risk losing the positive momentum that began in the meeting, so make sure you have a specific place to record next steps for each student so this doesn’t happen to you. And if possible, schedule your conferences so that you have 20-30 minutes after each one to immediately start on next steps while they’re still fresh in your mind. A few teachers I know write personalized thank you notes to families and this is a prime time for that, as well.
Parent and family conferences should be a positive learning experience for everyone, so enjoy the chance to really focus in on each individual student in order to build that relationship and move them forward!
Want more on parent communication? Try this post!