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Making the most of parent conferences

New York Teacher
Making the most of parent conferences

Participating in a parent-teacher conference can feel like trying to give an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards while the band attempts to play you offstage. It’s no small feat to make introductions, review expectations and suggest pathways to improvement in under 15 minutes! Here are some suggestions to help you make the most out of your upcoming conferences.

Consider ways to involve students. Some schools invite students to participate in parent-teacher conferences or even lead them. If your school doesn’t, you’re still likely to experience a student popping into the frame on Zoom or even acting as an interpreter for a parent. Think ahead of time about how you might include the student in the conversation.

Begin the conference by establishing a relationship. It can be tempting to dive into an overview of your curriculum. But demonstrating to a parent that you know their child can go a long way toward building trust. Start your conference by saying something personal about the student, whether it’s relevant to your class (“She’s so interested in this period of history.”) or the student’s demeanor (“He has so many friends he enjoys chatting with!”). Recognizing the student in a positive way will put both of you at ease.

Ground the conversation in real student work. It can be challenging to explain theoretical learning standards to parents who aren’t immersed in the curriculum themselves. It may be helpful to show a range of student work — with names redacted — as models. For instance, show parents what an exemplary writing piece looks like and what it includes, side by side with their own child’s work, and talk through a few successes and areas for improvement that are applicable beyond the individual assignment.

You can do the same thing to demonstrate your expectations for the year: Show parents the kind of work their child should be capable of completing at the end of the semester or the year. If a student is far from grade level, try to keep your focus on one or two major standards that will help them get there: “We’re doing a lot of work with fractions this year, so Vanessa really needs to work on her multiplication tables,” or “Practicing reading short and long vowel sounds will help Nico read grade-level words.”

Share relevant materials directly. If you’ve ever spotted a student’s folder, backpack or desk overflowing with papers you handed out months ago, you know that not everything students do in class makes it home for families to see. If you have resources for families — such as book lists, links to homework-help websites or other important documents — have them ready to share at the end of the conference.

Leave time for parents to participate. You likely have a lot of information to share with parents — but they probably have a lot to share with you, too. Instead of asking families if they have any questions for you, consider asking, “Is there anything you want me to know about your child?” They’ll appreciate the opportunity to express their concerns — and you may learn something about a student that will help you support them better in class.

Related Topics: New Teachers, Pedagogy