I am not sure how you feel about parent-teacher conferences, but when chatting to colleagues, I have encountered everything from frustration and dislike, to enjoyment and gratification. Personally, I love them: I find that meeting the parents or guardians of the teens I work with every day can be the most insightful, valuable and constructive experience. Below are just a few of the top tips I have garnered from my many meetings with parents (often learned the hard way).
From my experience, unless there is a particular issue to discuss, parents come to teacher conferences just wanting to know that your really know their child: that you are on their side and have their best interests at heart. The best way to communicate this is to be as prepared as possible.
In order to do this, at the beginning of the school year, I have all my students complete a few basic forms themselves, and then I place these in manila folders so that every student I teach has a file. Throughout the year, if I ever have an interaction with a student which is noteworthy, or if there is cause for concern, or even if they produce a particularly important piece of work, I pop it into the file. This means that when I meet with a parent, I pull out the file and have a substantial stack of material to reference.
This serves two purposes. Firstly, it means that students are accountable for their own education; they are active participants, and they are given a voice. Secondly, it cuts out the middleman; it means that you limit the potential for miscommunication and “he said, she said” messages.
FREEBIE #1: Grab this free worksheet to have students complete at the beginning of the year, so you can check in with them on their progress and get vital information about how they learn best.
This is the real benefit of having students attend (see above): I start any meeting with a student or parent with a series of questions to really get the pulse of the conversation and draw out any specific concerns.
If a student is present I will always ask them questions such as: How are you enjoying our course? Which area of English do you want to grow in? Can you name one activity we have completed so far this year which you really enjoyed? One you struggled with? How would you rate your engagement in class? Where would you like to see improvement?
If a student is not present, I might ask the parent questions such as: How do you find your child is doing this year? Do you have any particular concerns? Does he/she ever talk about what we are studying in class? How much is he/she reading at home? What area would you like to see improvement in?
The answers to these questions can often be extremely revealing and will often then determine the path our meeting will take. Starting this way shifts the focus off of the teacher, and onto the students and their educational journey: a far more constructive focus.
I always try to end my meetings by identifying one or two actionable goals for going forward. Usually, I have the student self-identify these goals, or we all come up with them together, and agree upon them collaboratively.
This also serves two purposes: it gives a clear actionable focus moving forward, which often gives parents and students a feeling of progress, and a focus for growth; in addition, it really does help indicate the end of the meeting, and bring it to a close - a sometimes much-needed signal! ;-)
FREEBIE #2: This is a template of the page I prepare and use for parent-teacher conferences; I compile one of each of these for the students with whom I meet. Click to download instructions and template.
Finally, I really do try to keep parents/guardians as informed as possible throughout the year, and not just at parent-teacher conference time. Sending parents short emails, giving them quick phone calls when possible, or sending notes home on a more regular basis: all incredibly rewarding, valuable and satisfying parts of my job, especially when done to signal positive praise and achievement (you can read more about that here).
If you have any specific questions or comments about parent-teacher conference, please do post them in the comments below, as all our Coffee Shop ladies have ample experience and advice on this topic, which they’d love to share.