I’ve spent more than one late night preparing for Fall Parent Conferences. Preparation is critical, but I now plan very differently than I planned in my early years.
My first years of teaching, I compiled folders and notebooks of student work. I made detailed notes on each child, anticipating any possible questions parents might ask. By the end of each 20-minute parent conference, I had shown parents roughly 50% of the items I had compiled.
One Fall, I realized I could predict (with surprisingly good accuracy) what parents wanted most to know. Here are some of my tricks:
Re-read letters and notes that parents have sent.
Before the school year begins, I send parents a note, asking that they respond to some questions. These questions help me see their child through the parents’ eyes. I re-read their responses, noting the tone and special details they have highlighted.
Some of the letters are very personal – I want to keep in mind the parents’ areas of sensitivity. They relate friendship issues their child has experienced or recent family tragedies. Other parents spend more time writing about their child’s achievements and the hopes they have for the child’s future.
I make sure I am prepared to speak to the issues parents raised in the initial parent letter. I might reference the letter, noting things about the child that are similar at home and school. I can also speak to behaviors that are different between home and school.
With regards to academics, parents tend to be more concerned either about literacy or mathematics. With former letters and emails, I can reliably predict which subject the parents will want to spend the most time talking about.
Find out students want to talk about.
I ask students to make SMART goals, or goals which are Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. My teaching partner and I walk students through the process.
My teaching partner made this poster to model his need to learn more about parenting before his first child is born. Part of the beauty of his example is that it doesn’t influence students’ goal choices. When teachers model reading or math goals, students tend make goals that sound similar to teacher examples.
Students (at least at age 10), have a pretty good idea of the areas they need to improve. Since one of my goals is to make students self-directed or self-motivated learners, I find it helpful when students set their own goals. Also, I find that many student goals reflect ongoing conversations they have with their parents.
What kinds of goals do students make? Over the years I’ve seen a huge variety.
- One girl wanted to do and report (in Mandarin) at least one science experience. The girl was a native English speaker who enjoyed science and wanted to improve her Mandarin skills.
- One boy wanted to write and publish his own comic book.
- Many students want to improve their computation skills by practicing with online games and saving their final scores as screenshots.
- Some want to improve handwriting or typing.
- Many want to read a greater variety of genres – so they work with the librarian and the teacher to plan reading lists for the next few months.
- Others want to improve their reading fluency by reading to a class of second-graders once per month.
Send parents an email, telling them what to expect at conferences.
- Explain that the conference is intended to be a celebration of learning so far and a conversation to set student goals.
- Tell parents whether or not students are expected to attend the conference and the rationale behind student attendance (or lack of attendance).
- If students are attending the conference, reassure parents that they can request 5-10 minutes of the conference time to be 1:1 with the teacher.
- Ask parents to send a list of three things that have been going well this year. Also, they should indicate one or two areas they would like to discuss at the conference.
- Let them know that they (and their child) will discuss goals for the year, and talk about action plans to achieve those goals. Action plans often involve the help of both parents and teachers.
The Big Picture
Parents have seen their child’s electronic portfolios already, so they know what kind of work their child has been doing. I have soft-copy assessment records at my fingertips.
I focus my preparation time targeting parents’ specific areas of concern. I differentiate my instruction. Why would I think parent conferences would be any less differentiated?
What other ideas do you have for parent conference preparation?
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