Saturday, February 18, 2012

How To: Conferences

I mentioned in a few earlier posts that we had conferences this past week.  I actually enjoy meeting with parents and kids and getting to know the families in our school.  I'm blessed to work in a school that has a lot of involved parents who truly care about their children and support the school.

My student teacher sat in on most of the conferences this week and I think everyone should have this opportunity before they're thrown into it on their own.  I don't run conferences exactly the way my cooperating teacher did, but I did get a lot of great ideas on how to make everything run smoothly.

I wanted to share some of my conference tips and I'd love for you all to share your own comments and suggestions on how to make parent-teacher conferences successful!

  1. Be organized - I have my students create a little construction paper folder to keep of the handouts in.  That way everything for each student is in one place and I can easily stack the folders in order and have them ready to go when parents arrive.  The last thing I was is to be scrambling through papers while parents sit and wait.  The kids help me organize everything, so they get involved in the process too!
  2. Let the students provide their input - In the past I've had the kids write letters to their parents telling about how the school year is going.  The parents love hearing things straight from the kids (I let parents choose if the kids come or not to conferences) and it allows the parents to see a sample of the student's writing.  This semester, I had the kids complete this awesome self-reflection that I found over at Lesson Plan SOS.    I typed up my own backside and had the students write three things they're good at and three things they would like to improve.  This was pretty much identical to the sheet I fill out on the students to share as well.  I always have the student's input be the first thing in the folder.  Usually the kids are pretty on target as far as the good and bad and it's a great way to lead into the rest of the conference.
  3. Don't overwhelm - I've never been one to save a lot of work samples to share at conferences.  We do Wednesday folders each week, so graded papers and all that kinda stuff goes home on a regular basis.  I know some teachers like to share work samples with parents and that works for some, but I also know of a lot who said this seems to bore a lot parents.  I have a sheet of test scores that I go over with parents (STAR, MAPS, AIMSWeb, state assessment prep, etc.)  It really helps to pace things and gives the parents an easy and simple explanation of the tests we give the students.
  4. Share the positive...  And the negative - Like I said above, I have the kids write about the things they're good at and what they need to work on.  Almost always, I end up sharing the same items.  I write out three goals for each student in my conference report.  Every student, no matter how high or how low has three goals.  Here are the most common goals I had for these most recent conferences:  Meet yearly AR goal, meet standards on state assessments, memorize multiplication and division facts, work on organization and responsibility, bring back homework each morning.  Going through these things pretty much always covers any questions or concerns that parents have.  I try not to sugar coat things (which can be hard for me sometimes), but I try to focus on how the child can improve and not focus on what they're doing wrong.
  5. Call in reinforcements - By this I mean, if you're afraid of meeting with the parents alone, ask a trusted colleague ahead of time to sit in on the conference with you.  Our principal (both the old one and the new one) have always made it known that they're available to sit in on any conferences that we're nervous about.  I've only called in the principal once in my five years...  I had what may possible be my most difficult behaviorally-challenged student EVER during my first year.  Even though the parents were actually quite supportive of the me and the help the school was trying to provide, I felt it was a good idea to have someone else there just in case.  
So, there are my tips for running successful parent-teacher conferences.  If you have any of your own tips, ideas, and suggestions please share them in the comments!  I'd love to hear how the rest of you wonderful teachers run your conferences!

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