Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parent Conferences: 5 ideas to make them a success!

Depending on the situation, parent conferences can be tricky.  Ideally they should be informative and constructive.   A benefit to all parties involved:  student, parent, and teacher.  However, they don't always work that way and an unpleasant conference seems to last forever.

Over the years, I have developed a few rules that I follow to make conferences as painless as possible.

It is important to have everything that you need for the conference before you begin.  Collect any data you might wish to share with the student's parents and have it at your fingertips.  Last year I used a notes app to input it into my iPad--right before the conference, I pulled up the data of the appropriate student and reviewed it quickly.  This year, I just used a large index card to jot down all the test results I wanted to talk about.  I also like to have selected student work samples in folder along with the report card.  I include any requests from the office in here (such as address verification, signature cards, etc.)  I will have the students organize their folders for me before conferences begin--this gives them a chance to see their report cards and the work that will be shared.  Which brings me to rule #2....

Parents, like most people, don't want to be surprised with bad news.  It takes time to process anger and disappointment.  If a student, a week before conference, decides to vandalize his chair, don't wait a week later and spring it on the parent as she is sitting there.  Send a note or call.   Make sure you have sent progress reports home (and received back verification that they have been seen--that is experience speaking there!!  I have been conned by many 6th graders in the past...the sweetest and most innocent kids in the world!)  Let's face it, a "B" might be a good grade in your eyes, but an unacceptable grade from the parental perspective. And there is no way of knowing that ahead of time.  If your students are old enough, showing them their report cards and having them share their grades with their parents is a great strategy.  I let my students know that the first words out of my mouth are, "Jojo Bear saw his grades--did he share them with you?"  The answer is almost always yes and for those parents who have been kept in the dark, they immediately steel themselves for bad news.

Make sure to find some positive things to say at each conference.  And for the negative things that you have to mention, figure out how to say it in a way to have the child move forward in a positive direction.  Jojo doesn't put enough effort into his work? Encourage the student to put forth more effort to produce work that is more reflective of his ability.  Lolo talks too much?  Suggest that by working on controlling her talking, she will be able to achieve greater success.  Or perhaps that while her talking doesn't interfere with her performance, the other students get distracted which makes it harder for them to learn--and Lolo probably never considered that.  

Whatever it may be, it is rarely personal.  I have had parents ask me "How many years have you been teaching?" (And not in a good and friendly way.)  I have been told that Jojo says the class is boring and  Lolo doesn't like school.  This past year, I had a parent question a book that I chose to have the kids read in class--an award winning book that was age appropriate.  The child had been reading it for three weeks and the mother waited until conference to bring it up (teachers don't care for surprises either!)  Years ago, a seasoned pro gave me this advice, "It is rarely about you--there might be things going on at home that you are unaware of, there might be long-standing educational issues that you didn't cause, they might just be people who are rarely satisfied."  I keep that in mind whenever I am faced with a difficult situation at a conference.  I listen to the concern, address it (if it is possible,) and avoid getting defensive.  Sometimes it takes all of my will-power to do that.

Sometimes conferences run long.  Sometimes parents arrive late.  Sometimes you need to rest and regroup.  Putting breaks into your conference schedule allows for the unseen to happen and not wreck havoc on your schedule.  I typically will do no more than 5 conferences in a row....that is one hour and forty minutes of being professional, polite, and informative.  Taking a break gives you a chance to catch your breath, stretch your legs, and clear your mind.

Lastly, if you can have the student at the conference, it will make a huge difference.  Sometimes parents focus more on what is minor to you...being able to have the child hear what you have to say allows you to continue the dialogue with the student in the coming days.  This isn't one of my "rules" because I can't control whether or not the child attends.....but I do request and hope for it.  :)

What else do you do to make your conferences go well?

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