Fall brings many wonderful things – recess duty with cooler weather, football, pumpkin spice lattes, and parent conferences! I know some may find the thought of parent conferences daunting, but I hope some of the questions and suggestions below will give you confidence for Fall Conferences!
Who do you need to meet with and when?
Some schools have a particular day or evening dedicated to parent conferences while others don’t. If your campus does not offer this, make sure to clarify with your administrative team if you are expected to schedule individual parent conferences on your own time. Some schools, particularly secondary, may only require meeting with parents of students who are struggling. In the occasion that you’re meeting with parents outside of designated Conference Night, make sure you will have fellow staff in the building and will not be alone. Inviting other content or elective teachers to join your meeting brings a collective approach and helps the parent from making multiple trips to the school. It is also important to be flexible for both your schedule and the parents. For example, in the past some of my students’ parents had two jobs and were only able to do a phone conference. Some parents may need that same flexibility.
How can I schedule individual parent conferences?
Even if your campus has a designated Parent Conference Night, you may need additional meetings with the parents throughout the school year. I highly recommend using Google Forms to quickly and efficiently gather availability information from parents as to of when they can meet. What I love about Google Forms is that I can create the form digitally and email it, but I can also print a hard copy to send home. Google Forms then compiles the information into an excel sheet and I can follow up with the family to confirm what time and date we have scheduled. Many people also love using the Bloomz or Remind app. Find what works for you! However you choose to schedule, tell the family in advanced the time slot and how long it will be. It is helpful for the parent to anticipate if they have 10 minutes or 30 minutes with you.
Will a translator be needed?
Some parents may seem fluent in English, but they may be more confident having a conference with a translator in their native language. It is better to politely ask than to assume what the parent may be most comfortable with. While it may not be widely advertised, you can typically reach out to your district and request a translator at no cost to the family. You may have a fellow staff member in your school who is fluent in another language and willing to translate – just be sure to ask them in advance to show respect for their time. Beware of using the student to translate!
How should I start the meeting?
It is important to show parents and guardians that they are also a leader in their child’s education. Small things like a smile or sitting on the same side of the table as them can go a long way. We never know what a parents experience was with school. They may have loved school or they may have had a negative experience with school and being back in a school may draw up anxious feelings.
I always start the conference by asking them some of the following questions and letting them set the tone of the meeting so I can better understand where they feel things are.
How do you feel the school year is going?
What areas do you notice your child is thriving at in at school?
What areas do you notice your child loves about school?
I always start with the positive questions and then as the conversation flows I may ask what possible concerns they may have.
What areas do you notice your child is struggling with at school?
What areas do you notice that your child does not look forward to about school?
As I ask these questions I try to connect and acknowledge what they are saying while also sharing with them what I see in the classroom. Letting them set the tone when they answer these questions also helps me understand how to best express my concerns about their child. Sometimes parents bring up the exact same concern that I had meaning we can jump right into a game plan, while others may be unaware of the concerns I have and I need ensure that I am thorough and thoughtful in explaining them.
What should I bring up in the meeting?
Talk about the good things! Parents often want to know that their child is seen and cared for. Sharing that you do see the positive growth and attributes in their child can be affirming for them. It would also be ideal to have concrete examples of their child’s work -whether it be actual papers or a digital journal (photos). This helps them see the actual evidence of all that you are discussing.
When you are bringing up some struggles that the students may have be sure that you have next steps in mind. Bringing up struggles a student may have is not to be seen as a complain session, but as a time to share the “game plan” for what struggles have been identified and how as a team we can work towards making this a successful year of learning. Show the parents what their child is struggling with and then share how you plan to help them in the classroom. It is also helpful to provide resources for the parents and students to utilize outside of the classroom if available. Some parents may feel like they are already doing everything they can to help their child and now finding out that their child is struggling may cause them stress. Affirm them that the need is being addressed in the classroom and if applicable provide them with resources to help their child at home. For example, a parent who is not fluent in English may struggle to read out loud to their child at home. Simply telling them to read more at home may cause them to feel helpless. Share with them how the library has audiobooks or free websites with read-alouds such as www.storylineonline.net.
I hope these questions have sparked a plan of action for how you can handle parent conferences with confidence this year!