Instant Ideas for Busy Teachers...
by Barbara Gruber, M.A. & Sue Gruber, M.A.
10 Tips for the Best Parent Conferences Ever!
Parent Conference week is such a busy time for teachers. Do you start getting panicky as parent conference time rolls around? Do you get tired just thinking about how to fit all of those conferences in during conference week? Do you feel like you might as well live at school during parent conference time? Are you already dreading meeting with certain parents? Here are the ideas you need to turn conference time into a positive experience for parents and for you!
- Take it Easy!
Most schools set aside four or five days for parent conferences. Do your parent conferences become a huge blur as you frantically squeeze all of your conferences into one short week? Do you find yourself becoming more concerned about keeping on schedule than about taking the time to communicate with parents? Wouldn't it be wonderful to only have two or three conferences each day rather than six or seven?
It's time to take it easy! Decrease your workload during conference week while maximizing the effectiveness of your conferences! Schedule some conferences for the week before the official conference week begins. This slower pace allows you to digest important information that parents share with you. You'll find that conferences can be downright enjoyable when you don't feel such tremendous pressure to squeeze them all into on short week. Be sure to tell your administrator that you're beginning your conferences early this year. Go for it! You'll be glad you did!
- Schedule for Success
You don't want early bird parents barging in on conferences that are in progress. You also don't want parents hanging around after their conferences are over. You need time to make notes and get ready for your next conference. Here's an easy way to keep your conferences on track!
Write out your daily conference schedule and post it outside on your classroom door. The posted schedule keeps early birds from entering the room. Have another copy at the table where conferences are held. Make sure both you and parents can easily see the schedule.
Be sure to schedule a break for yourself between conferences. What ever you do, don't write the word "break" next to this spot in your schedule or that time will evaporate! List your break on the schedule and write, "Work in Office" or better yet "Meeting in Office." When the time comes, head to the office, put your feet up and enjoy a snack. After the last conference on your list you might want to jot "Meeting with Principal" so that last conference doesn't go on forever.
- Be Prepared
You want to be ready to begin conferences the minute parents step through the door. Here are some quick tips to help you be ready to go:
- Set up a conference area that includes a table, several adult size chairs, paper for taking notes, pens, a copy of your conference schedule, and a small clock. Many parents find it less threatening to meet at a table rather than at your desk.
- Gather dated samples of children's work that you want to share with their parents. Keep the papers in folders labeled with children's names.
- Round up copies of texts and materials that you may refer to during conferences. You don't want to lose valuable conference time scrambling for materials.
- Conference Attendees
It's up to you to decide who you would like to be present at conferences. Do you prefer to meet only with the parents? Maybe you like to have the students present, as well. Make sure to let parents know if you want the students to be there. Ask parents to make arrangements for childcare for siblings so they can concentrate during conference time.
Should the principal, reading teacher, speech pathologist or any other staff members attend the conferences? Make your decision and let parents know in advance who will be in attendance. You don't want to surprise parents unexpectedly with a group when they may be expecting to meet just with you.
- Don't Be Caught Off Guard!
Have you ever had a conference grind to a halt when a parent asks a question out of the blue that puts you on the spot? Have you ever answered one of these questions in a way that you regret? If a question or issue comes up during the conference that you are unprepared to answer, don't feel compelled to respond. Tell the parent you need time to reflect on the question and you'll get back to them in a few days. Jot the question down so you are sure to remember to follow through.
- Conference Content
Many parents feel anxious about conferences. Help put them at ease immediately. Begin every conference with a positive comment about the child. Don't overwhelm parents with lots of unimportant details during conferences. Make sure to present the big picture that shows parents exactly how their children are doing in your class. Let parents know:
- if their children are attentive during lessons
- where their children stand academically
- areas where their children excel
- areas where their children experience difficulties
- let parents know specific ways they can provide help in areas where children are having difficulty
- how well their children get along with classmates
- how long homework should normally take.
Be prepared to give specific examples to illustrate the points you are making during conferences. Allow time for parents to ask questions. Ask parents to give you specific examples if you are unsure about what they are asking.
Wrap up each conference on an upbeat note with a positive comment about the child.
- Difficult Conferences
Occasionally, a conference takes a negative turn. Remember that both you and the parents are concerned about the child. Look for ways to find common ground. You may want to state that you know that both of you want what's best for the child and that you're looking for ways that you can work together to meet the child's needs.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to provide an opportunity for all parties to reflect on the issues at hand by bringing the conference to a close. Set another time and date to continue the conference. If you are dealing with angry people and feel threatened, have the principal, vice principal or school counselor attend the next conference.
- Parent Tip Sheets
Most parents are open to the idea of helping their children learn. Many parents feel unsure about the best ways to help their children. Consider investing the time to prepare tip sheets with lists of ideas telling how parents can help their children learn. For example, when you tell a parent his child needs help with reading, give him the reading tip sheet. Create tip sheets for reading, writing, spelling practice and math help. You can use the tip sheets year after year. Here's an example of information from a reading tip sheet:
Tips to Help Your Child Read Well
- Read to your child.
- Ask your child to tell you about a book or story he has read.
- Tell your child about your favorite children's books.
- Give books as gifts.
- Listen to your child read.
- Play games with your child.
- Limit television time.
- Go to the library together.
- Read and discuss your child's schoolwork.
- Subscribe to a children's magazine.
- Establish a family reading time.
Over time, important information shared during conferences can be forgotten. Take a few minutes at the end of each conference to write quick notes. When important issues come up during conferences, make notes. The more sensitive the issue, the more you need notes! Always make notes if your conferences include discussions about:
- behavior problems
- special education referrals
- participation in pull-out programs for extra help
- low academic skills
- changes in the child's health or family composition.
Keep your notes about each child handy. You'll want to refer to them before your next conference with the parents.
Do some of your parents have impossible schedules? When parents cannot attend a conference, schedule a telephone conference instead. Telephone conferences can make life easier for you and the parents. Here are some tips to make telephone conferences valuable:
- Formally schedule telephone conferences. When parents know that you'll call at a specific time, they'll be prepared to give you their full attention.
- Photocopy the conference form and work samples that you plan to discuss. Number the pages. Slip everything into a large envelope and send the packet home the day before the conference. On the front of the envelope write:
Telephone Conference with Ms. Sunshine
Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Have this envelope and a pencil at the phone, please.
- Conduct the telephone conference the same way you hold face to face conferences. When you call the parent, you can ask them to refer to the numbered papers you sent home in the packet. By having identical packets of papers in front of you, it's easy to be specific when you're discussing a child's work.
Telephone conferences require additional planning on your part. However, most parents really appreciate this extra effort.
Parents appreciate your efforts to keep them informed. They will be more supportive of their children's efforts and achievements when they feel comfortable meeting with you. Parent conferences are a great way to involve parents in their children's education.
When you are looking for practical ideas for your classroom that save teachers time and work, take a look at our online courses for teachers. Teachers tell us we've helped them put the fun and joy back into teaching---that's music to our ears.
Best wishes ~
Barbara Gruber & Sue Gruber
Barbara Gruber Online Courses for K-6 Teachers
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