Beyond Parent-Teacher Conferences: Building Connections That Last

Parent Teacher Conferences MottoWhen I first started teaching, I was intimidated by parent-teacher conferences. I knew the importance of establishing home-school connections, but it felt impossible to build meaningful relationships over the course of a 20-minute conference. But after a few years, I started to see conferences as a way to set the stage for home-school collaboration that would last throughout the year. Here are some tips I learned for communicating with parents during conferences and beyond:

1. Value Parent Voice

During the Conference:

Start conferences by having parents share their impressions of how school is going for their child. Ask them to share what is working well for their child, what they see their child struggling with, and whether they have any specific questions they’d like answered during the conference. To save time, you can have parents answer these questions in writing before the conference. Showing parents that you value their expertise sets the stage for true collaboration. Hearing parents talk about their observations and concerns allows you an opportunity to assess the most productive direction for the conference.

Beyond:

Draw upon parents’ expertise throughout the year. If you’re struggling with a student, talk to his parents and don’t be afraid to ask for advice by asking questions such as, “Does this ever happen at home? What helps the situation?” True collaboration means learning from each other; building relationships with parents can help students receive better support at home and school.

2. Set Goals

During the Conference:

After having parents share their impressions of how school is going for their student, I shared my observations, student work, and assessment data. After looking at the information gathered from both home and school, I found success using this sheet┬áto assess students’ progress and set goals. Sometimes I didn’t have enough time to fill in the sheet as I talked with families, so I jotted down quick notes during the conference and added more details later. Sharing the written record of the conference with parents helped to summarize our discussion and held us accountable for following through with action steps.

Beyond:

Revisit the action steps that were mutually agreed upon at the conference. Before winter break, consider sending home a copy of the action steps and having students work with their families to self-assess their progress towards their goals.

3. Share Resources

During the Conference:

When I first started holding parent-teacher conferences, I talked a lot about guided reading and DRA levels. Then I realized that parents had no idea what I was talking about! I began to use conferences as an opportunity to educate parents about the instructional methods and tools that I used in the classroom. For example, while talking about a student’s reading level, I brought out a copy of a book at that level and discussed the reading strategies that the student was learning. Just like with teaching, hands-on examples (seeing an actual reading assessment, showing a variety of math manipulatives, etc.) can be valuable learning tools for parents.

Beyond:

Parents often ask for advice about educational resources. It can be helpful to compile a list of recommended books, websites, and other resources to send home to parents. As most states transition to the Common Core Standards, consider sharing information about this change. Student Achievement Partners has collected a list of Common Core resources for parents.

As you head into conferences, let go of some of the pressure to cover everything. Instead, think about building relationships, establishing goals, and setting the stage for collaboration that will last all year.

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.

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