Better Parent Conferences
Whether parents 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 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.
Teachers have put together helpful suggestions, too. In a two-part 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.” 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, leaving time to “focus on student work, portfolios and social emotional issues.” In 2012 DeWitt carried over the current fixation on flipping instruction into the realm of parent communication, adding multimedia and other elements to his school’s online contacts with parents. Another flipped approach might be to post a video providing parents with conference basics in advance.
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.
How do schools encourage parents 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 “Solving the Parent Involvement Puzzle,” a 2011 interview which appears at the NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign website. In the Association for Middle Level Education’s Middle Level iNSIDER, Jill Spencer discusses “Eight Ways to Build Positive Relationships with Families” including regular checks on each student’s progress and use of social media as well as a game plan for parent-teacher conferences.
Teachers will likely increase their sensitivity about 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 EL article. 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.
For up-to-the-minute posts on parents, visit Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, Engaging Parents in Schools, a spinoff of his 2010 book of the same title. At this blog and in the book you can find out more about the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, which Larry co-organized.