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Whether parents and guardians arrive for their Parent /Teacher Conferences with confidence or anxiety, those periodic meetings at school to discuss student progress demand educators’ attention. For a quick overview of preparing for and hosting conferences, read Checklist for productive parent-teacher conferences from the AFT. You will find guidelines in Spanish and English for teachers, principals and parents (updated April 2013) in this online booklet from the Harvard Family Research Project. And watch a conference unfold and view a mentor’s follow-up suggestions in this 10-minute video from Teaching Channel. New to teaching? Get a quick game plan from Margaret Berry Wilson, a Responsive Classroom PD specialist, in this ASCD Express post.
Educators Share What Works
Teachers have put together helpful suggestions, too. In a post from Choice Literacy, one educator recalls her conference experiences as a divorced parent and offers ways to be sensitive to the concerns of others who are divorced.In Part 2, middle grades teachers describe how they’ve used student photos to help parents feel comfortable, set up Evernote to collect student materials, and provided kids with questions to consider before the conference. One common theme running through the advice: Keep it positive. Teacher/writer Aimee Buckner concludes, “Conferences should not be a surprise party of bad news.” In another Choice Literacy post, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan lay out strategies for presenting several categories of data to parents. An NEA article collects teachers’ strategies for working through parent anger to achieve the best results for their children. Don’t miss Bill Ferriter’s sidebar recommendations.
Principal Peter DeWitt takes a fresh look at parent-teacher communications in several posts at his EdWeek blog, Finding Common Ground. In one from 2011 he explains why leaving the report card out of conferences can be helpful, allowing time to “focus on student work, portfolios and social emotional issues.” In 2012 DeWitt carried over the current interest on flipping instruction into the realm of parent communication, adding multimedia and other elements to his school’s online contacts with parents. Later he shared what he had learned about flipping, noting that a video providing parents with conference basics in advance is a potentially useful flip.
Student Led Conferences
In a 2011 post Peter DeWitt recommends arranging Student Led Conferences. He recounts the decades-old history of SLC’s and notes that implementing them in today’s rushed classroom can be time consuming and challenging. After laying out the process, DeWitt comments on the power of SLC’s to engage students. In a 1996 ASCD Educational Leadership article, you can follow teachers Lyn Le Countryman and Merrie Schroeder as they plan and implement SLC’s for their seventh graders. They include what worked, what didn’t, and how they would adjust the process for the future. You’ll find other useful info about student-led conferences in this Education World article last updated in 2010.
Making Families Welcome
How do schools encourage parents and guardians to participate in conferences and become more directly involved in their children’s education? Writing in the New York Times Fashion section, Bruce Feiler delves into Finding the Right Amount of Parental Involvement in School. It turns out helicopter parents aren’t the problem. It’s the 75% who are not involved that can adversely affect student learning. Feiler references the work of Anne T. Henderson, a Senior Consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. For her take on parent engagement, read Boosting Parent Engagement in Schools, a 2011 interview which appeared in NEA Today.
Teachers can focus on parent relationships by reading Babs Freeman-Loftis’ overview of parents’ lives and concerns. She includes recent demographic changes and suggests opportunities to interact with parents in this ASCD Educational Leadership article. For specific suggestions – for teachers and administrators – to respond to parents’ situations and concerns, read the responses to a brief parent survey from Dr. Joe Mazza at Edutopia, and check out his suggestions for meeting parent concerns.
In his 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Acing Parent-Teacher Conferences, Jeffrey Zaslow found some of the same concerns in his conversations with parents and teachers and offers a pre-conference checklist for parents. (Zaslow, co-author with Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture and collaborator with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly on their memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, died in 2012.) The PTA hosts a fuller how-to list for parents, which is a quicker read than the Harvard Family Research Project guide mentioned in the first paragraph, above. Scholastic has suggestions for parents working to resolve conflicts with teachers.
For up-to-the-minute posts on working with parents, visit Larry Ferlazzo’s blog Engaging Parents in Schools, a spinoff of his 2010 book of the same title. His collection of resources includes this article from Care.com: 20 Questions to Ask During a Parent-Teacher Conference: Know what to expect from a parent-teacher conference and the best questions to ask the teacher by Meghan Ross.
To see how entire school districts can reach parents, read a chapter from Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family–School Partnership, a book written by Anne T. Henderson and others, in a version adapted for publication in the Harvard Family Research Project’s Evaluation Exchange.