When people outside of education say they worked an 80 hour week, we are left to imagine what tasks fill their late nights. When people inside of education say they worked 80 hours last week, there is no question in our mind what they were doing with all that work time...Parent Teacher Conferences!
These two Modern Principals just survived another round of Spring conferences and thought we’d put into the blogosphere some reflections to save for the next time PT Conferences roll around again.
Whether it’s your first round of parent conferences or your 30th, no two parents were created similarly. Purposeful preparation is the best way to ensure your marathon work week ends with a freshly glossed smile.
Your Modern Principal values these nights tremendously. It is such a powerful way to strengthen the relationships with parents and give them a chance to join the community of our school. “Parent Partnerships” is one of those “it” terms in education, but trust us, it does not come simply and without intentional work. Take a look below at our Before, During and After Conference Run-Down so you can freshen up before it’s time to partner up.
BEFORE the CONFERENCE PREP STEPS:
1. Graphically “Organize” Yourself:
Create a visual template you can fill in for each student. Focus on the main subject areas and have places for you to both celebrate strengths and identify skills still in progress. Be sure to have a goal and a celebration for ALL students, regardless of their achievement level. Parents appreciate knowing you will push their child as well as recognize their accomplishments.
2. Talk “Data” To Me:
Be sure to review any recent data you have collected on the student prior to the conference. This can include tests, grade cards, district benchmarks or even informal conferring notes. Remember, recent is the key word. Sharing a test from January when the conference is in April doesn’t help a parent feel confident you know how their child is currently performing on that standard(s).
** Two things are important here: be sure you can explain what the data actually means in terms of instructional goals AND that you have a plan of how to reteach or enrich their child based on that data. Stay tuned for future blogs that delve into both of those pieces even further. **
Seriously. As Modern Principals, we are still rehearsing tough conversations with parents or staff members prior to having them. There is no shame in that game. Clarity is key and for those more challenging conversations, you do not want to wonder later if you were on the same page with the parent. Some conversations will be uncomfortable and hard, but being honest and clear is what is best for the partnership with the parents to help their child.
4. Call for Back-Up:
Remember, we are not on an island. Successful schools are that way because they are collaborative and adults see every student as ‘their’ student. Be sure to send the specific dates and times of the conferences to adults that work closely with that child so they can be there as well. This can include a reading specialist, counselor, social worker, special education teachers or even the specials/elective staff. The Modern Principal is always on hand to support challenging conversations or difficult decision making and wants to be there as a support to both you and the parents. The more people on the same page about how to support a student, the better.
5. Kids Say the Darndest Things:
A great way to start every conference? Have the child create a self-reflection for parents to review. Some teachers have created student centered grade cards for the kids to fill out while others have the students organize their best work to show in a portfolio. Students deserve the chance to have their voice as a part of this conversation as well!
6. You Better Organize:
Elementary teachers usually thrive in this area, so not much explanation needed. Having everything in a folder, copies already made for the parent and information readily available just makes you look like the professional we know you are!
7. Remembering the Randoms will Take You Far:
Do you have a schedule posted for the night outside your door? Do you have chairs that aren’t just made for little people so everyone can feel comfortable? Have you thought about what parents can look at while they wait that can be a glimpse into their child’s school day? What do the walls and bulletin boards say about your classroom culture? Is there student ownership and work proudly displayed?
IT’S GO TIME...THE DURING CONFERENCE CHECKLIST:
1. Put Your Best “Positives” Forward:
Even if there are tough conversations to be had about a child’s development, either academically or socially, there is also greatness in that child that deserves to be celebrated. Sincerity and specifics matter here immensely and will set the tone for the entire conference. If you are struggling to find a positive specific to that child, some soul searching might be important prior to the conference, because every child deserves a teacher that sees and celebrates their strengths.
2. If There’s a Problem, Yo’ You’ll Solve It:
When discussing areas the student may not be meeting expectations, never just present the problem and move on. Share your professional plan for how to help the student learn the missing skill, whether it is behavioral or academic. The plan should always be what YOU are planning to do at school and not what the parent should be expected to do at home. Provide them some ideas of how to support at home, but remember, you have their child for 7 to 8 hours a day and you are the professional. Provide them the steps that you will take to support the development of the skills needed to be successful in the next grades and in life.
3. Build the A-Team:
This shouldn’t be a one-way dialogue. Build the relationship up with the parents by asking questions and inviting their insights. Pose questions like what are their biggest goals for the student? Or are you having any struggles at home this year with your child or our school/home routine? Or what strengths do you see in your child that I may not be tapping into?
4. Make Eye Contact and be HUMAN
Yes you have notes and things written down, but parents want to feel confident that you know their child and care deeply about them. If you read from your notes for the entire conference, it can give the impression that you aren’t deeply invested in their child’s successes. No matter what time of the year you are holding the conferences, you should be able to speak from the heart about each child and share what makes them such an important part of your classroom and school community.
5. Avoid Alphabet SOUP:
This is a pitfall teachers slip into. We are so used to using acronyms (DCA, RTI, PBIS…YEESH!) and edu-jargon like formative assessments, phonemic awareness, algebraic thinking or decoding. Parents may smile and nod along with us as we go on and on, but that doesn’t mean they understand the term in the same way that we do and some may not feel comfortable asking for clarification. When in doubt, just provide short explanations or examples for terms that are associated with education or learning.
6. End with an Ellipses….:
Just because the conference ends, doesn’t mean the conversation about their child and his or her progress should. Make sure parents know how to reach you if they have follow up questions or if they want to talk about anything further. For students who are not meeting the grade level expectations either academically or socially, give parents a plan of when you will update them again of their progress on the specific goals you discussed.
PHEW...DONESO! NOW THE AFTER CHECKLIST:
1. Say What Now?:
As soon as the conference ends, jot down some important notes for the student before bringing in the next parent. Bullet point the different topics that were covered, especially if there was any area of the conversation that felt more challenging or that you have some concerns. Think about if there there a plan of action you need to remember or follow up steps? Is there an area the parent shared some disagreement or frustration that you need to share with your Modern Principal?
2. Follow-up To-Dos:
If you said you’d send books home, do it. If you said you’d call them in a week to update them on progress, do it. If you said you’d have the counselor touch base with them, do it. Keeping your word and follow through is an important way to build trust and strengthen the relationship.
3. Not Better Late and Definitely Not Never:
Partnerships with parents don’t just happen after one conference. Like any relationship, it takes work to build up true partnerships with parents that will benefit their child. How will you stay in touch with this family frequently? How will you celebrate the next goals? How will you keep them up to date on progress?
It’s not enough just to ‘survive’ parent teacher conference nights. We want each of you to thrive. We’d love to hear from you. Was there anything we missed on our list? What tips have you learned along the way that have benefited your communication with parents on these nights?
Until next time, Edu Queens, keep on shaping ed., sharing strengths and staying chic!