“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
– Colossians 4:6 ESV
For many teachers across the country, January and February are the months when winter Parent-Teacher conferences typically occur. Whether you meet with each parent in your own classroom for a small 15 minute block, see parents in a gym, or are using student-led conferences, this is a time to celebrate, look for areas of improvement, and set goals for the remainder of the year. Although these days and nights can be long, parents appreciate the time and effort that you spend with their children each day.
Preparing for Winter Conferences
For most of us, we only have about 15-20 minutes at the most to talk with parents during a parent-teacher conference. In order to maximize you time, have important information that you are ready to talk about available, but also other information such as reports, etc. that they could read more in depth at home. Grades are important, but in my opinion, they are not everything. Take some time to focus on what is going well and areas to improve. There are many parent-teacher conference templates out there, but here is a free one that I like and it seems cover many different areas for elementary students. Check out this example that can be modified for secondary students. If you think you might run more than 15-20 minutes, make sure you schedule a time prior or after the conference to meet to talk about other pressing issues.
Start with the Positive
I learned early on from my mentor that when you are having conversations with parents about their children, start with the positive. Even if you need to search a little bit for it, every student has something that we can celebrate. Starting on a positive note helps to relax parents and ease into the conversation if there are ares of concern later on.
As I now am starting to go into parent-teacher conferences with my own children, I can see from a parent perspective how hearing positive news first is always beneficial. These parents want to know that you care for their children, and one simple way we can do that is to start the conference with a celebration or two and then move on to areas of improvement.
Areas to Improve
Since there is only a limited amount of time for a conference, I want to make sure I address the more pressing issues in person. During this time I will go over some academic data and voice any concerns about behaviors in and outside of the classroom. Many parents want to know how their students are getting along with their peers.
Voice your concerns to parents, but also be ready to listen. We do not always know outside factors of why a student may be falling behind or is just now showing behaviors not present at the beginning of the year. Take time to listen as well as offer a plan to move forward. Parents want to know there will be something in place for improvement for the rest of the year.
The improvement does not happen at school alone. Buy-in has to be from the families as well. If parents and educators are on the same page as far as expectations, then the student will be more likely to reach their goals for the end of the school year.
Goals for the Rest of the Year
The winter conference is important because it sets the tone for how the rest of the year will go. This meeting is a checkpoint in order to see what can be done to meet student needs by enrichment or remediation. June will be here before we know it, so it is important to set goals for the rest of the year. I did not say that the teacher or the parent need to set these goals. For younger students, they may need some support, but students in upper elementary through high school should be able to set goals for themselves.
Goals that student set for themselves should be S.M.A.R.T. The goals are specific, measurable , attainable, relevant, and timely. I like to have my students write goals for three different areas: Academic, Work Habits, and a Personal Goal. The first two we can help the students track in class. This resource is a great one to use with students. The personal goal is fun because it can open the door to great conversations and you get to a student’s dreams and talents on a deeper level. In order to be successful at this, make sure you have 3-4 checkpoints from now until the end of the year. Have students do a quick reflection and a set up a plan if they are not on track.
Make sure -during your parent-teacher conference that you allow five minutes or so to discuss any questions or concerns that the family might have. Have a pad of paper handy so you can jot down their concerns. Make sure you also have an updated email address or phone number. This is important because you likely will not have time to address all of their concerns in enough detail, so you might have to reach out at a different time. I know I definitely do not have all of the answers, so often I write down their concerns, and then I go back and look up what I can for them or try to articulate my answer as best as I can. I usually tell parents if I cannot find the answer, then I will try to find someone who can.
I know the night or multiple nights of conferences can be very long, especially with little to no bathroom break between families! Know that the families that you serve appreciate what you do for their children each day, even if they do not say it to you. Keep the open lines of communication going after the conference to help transition the student to the next level. Keep up the great work!