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Stress Free Parent-Teacher Conferences

Thank_you

I can't be the only teacher that finds parent-teacher conference time stressful, right? Part of the stress comes from the fast pace, limited time, lack of food and restroom breaks, late evenings, and the worry that you may have an unhappy family member. This year I am taking several precautions to help ease the stress for my parents and myself. I am actually looking forward to my conferences this year and think parents will feel the same. Here are my before, during, and after conference tips:

Communication Steps You Can Take Before Conference Time Arrives

Reflection Letter: As part of our homework policy, I ask students and parents to take time once a week to provide feedback on how school is going.  I pass a reflection sheet out on Thursday afternoon that consists of three questions: What can you celebrate this week?  What are you concerned about?  What goal can you set for next week?  This homework assignment has been beneficial for me, as I can address strengths and concerns on a weekly basis. For conference week, the assignment will be modified to give parents an opportunity to reflect on conference topics. Overall, the ongoing feedback allows me to know the needs of each parent (yes, parent) so I can better help them at home.

On-line Grade Access: In addition to sending home a paper version of our weekly newsletter and grades, our family members have access to grades and newsletters on-line.  This really eases any surprises on lower grades or grades of concern during parent-teacher conferences. The program I currently use can be found at www.engrade.com. With the shift in communication routes, all but three family members regularly use the Internet to access grades, homework, textbooks, and newsletters on-line.

Day Of Parent-Teacher Conferences

While Parents/Siblings Are Waiting: For younger siblings that are brought along, I have a basket with crayons, paper, books, and letter blocks. For parents, I have a slide show playing on a laptop along with small treats and drinks on a table. I also have a sheet that I ask family members to fill out for their child's portfolio. It's a nice surprise for students at the end of the year, and it can be turned in after the conference as well.

Creating a Calming Environment: Before conferences begin, I spray our room with room spray, open the windows for some fresh air, and I play soothing music in the background. It helps set the tone and gives a nice impression to incoming family members. It also helps me from talking too quickly, as I usually feel rushed during conferences.   

Take Notes: With so many conferences, it is hard to remember what has been discussed for each meeting. I use a tablet to record our conversations. I also make sure to ask parents if their is anything I can do to help their child be more successful.  Whatever is mentioned, I write it down and try to create a method to support them further.

The Balance of Feedback/Talk: If I spend my time complimenting each child on their strengths without addressing an area to improve, we are losing an opportunity to grow.  Mentally, I try to use the two stars, one wish method (two compliments, one area of concern) for my parent conferences. I sometimes write this down before the conference to really take care in my observations of each child and their perceived needs. I also try to balance out the amount of talking going on.  Am I doing most of the talking? If so, I try to stop and listen to what parents have to say about their child. It is just as important for me to hear what parents are observing as it is for me to share what I am observing with parents.

Meet the Portfolio: I have portfolios for each student in a filing cabinet.  At the beginning of the year I collect a drawing from each student, a writing sample, and a class photo from the first day of school. Shortly before the conference I have each student write a reflection on their school year so far and place a summary anecdotal record of conferences in the files. I use our conference time to introduce the work collected so far and ask family members to return any work they are particularly proud of throughout the year (ex- a high grade on a test they studied really hard for). I share that this all gets placed in their child's portfolio which is bound at the end of the year. Using a simple program, Print Artist Gold, I create magazine covers for the first page of each portfolio (pictured below).

After Conferences Are Over   

Follow-Up: As a mother of a school-aged child, I know that our motives for coming to a conference is out of care and concern. I like to recognize the time put aside to meet with me by offering small thank you bags to those parents that attended conferences. As a surprise, I send this home the following day with the student. Inside each bag I place a candy bar*, a thank you note, and a copy of our notes from the conference. I also include a business card which has all of my contact information. It is really simple, but it let's my parents know I appreciate their efforts to work with me.

I hope this helps you in some way. Please let me know if you have any interesting suggestions for parent-teacher conferences. I'd love to hear about it!

To learn more about our classroom, visit us here.

Conference_kids

Before Conferences: Keep the siblings happy with books and activities.

Portfolio

During Conferences: Showcase growth through a child's portfolio (which will become an end-of-the-year gift).

Conference_goodies

After Conferences: Let your family members know how much you appreciate them with a thank you bag.

*To Make Candy Bar Wrappers: You can pay one dollar at Letteringdelights.com to have a printable candy bar wrapper template, or you can make your own with scapbooking paper. Considering I am making cany bar birthday invitations for my son using the scrapbooking approach, I decided to make my own. Two examples are shown above. Supplies purchased at Hobby Lobby and Target. Legally, you must keep the original wrapper in place (think peanut allergies!).

Comments

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Angela Bunyi

Wow. I feel great power and motivation hearing all that you have written me. I just love working with teachers AND students, so this year is a dream come true to work with Scholastic. Your words, and the words of others, just keeps me going! Thank you for taking the time to write me. I am humbled.

As far as teaching college courses, I have had several along the way mention this (including my mom and husband), but two people in particular. One was a former principal of mine, and it was because of him that I started working towards my doctorate degree. It was such a blessing to work with someone who believed in me SOO much-before I believed in myself. I remember he was giving feedback when I was new to the profession. He said, "You don't know how good you are. One day I'll get to say that I knew you." He was the first person to mention being an administrator or college professor (at that time I looked like I was 15!) and said he could imagine I'd be having a lot of people visiting our room. At that time, I didn't think I did anything special, but I am positive I am who I am because of him.
And, by the way, we do have visitors on a weekly basis (one today even), so isn't that funny?

Website- No need to worry. Even if my family were to move again, I have the domain name of www.mrsbunyi.com and know how to move a site (kind of like a home). I don't plan on being a coach again either as I missed having a class of my own too much. And I love Beth Newingham's site as well. Isn't she amazing?

Much respect,

Angela

Melanie D. Glenn

I just wanted to know if you have ever considered teaching college level students? I say that because I think that you would be awesome at it. Although, I am sure that you could teach any subject, I believe that you have a real talent for educating students to become teachers. I know that this is off the subject, but I have only came across your website by accident. I was going to be interviewed for a third grade position and came across Mrs. Newingham's Website, which I just love!!!! When I happened to somehow stumble onto yours. Your website and Mrs. Newingham's made me want to teach 3rd and 4th graders--and I would of had never considered it before. I have taught kindergarten for 3 years and I absolutely love it but, I am trying to grow as a teacher and experience new things. I have realized that even though I may still teach kindergarten, that there is a lot to learn from both of your websites, all I do is make some modifications. Anyway, I frequent your website often and intend to utilize the information that I have gleaned from it. I am constantly checking to see what is NEW, to add to my tool kit. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to your students. I aspire to be as good of a teacher as you are some day.

P.S. It would be a big disappointment to google your website and it no longer exist. I know that I am not the only teacher that benefits from your talent and would be discouraged if your site was gone. I often looked to and admired Mrs. Polymeyer's Kindergarten Website and was devasted when it was not longer available.

Angela Bunyi

Christina,

I like the idea of having reading material made by students while parents wait. Sadly, what I have is what I'd like to show for our conference time. However, next time around I will be adding that into the mix!

And finding time...now this is more of a personality thing. I am kind of on all the time (although my husband has set our bedtime as 10:00- I have two minutes left!). Even when my family went to the wonderful island of Santorinni, Greece, I just couldn't take laying on the beach. We had to move and do something!

So there you go. It's my bedtime...

Christina Towery

Angela,

When do you find time to do all this great stuff? We had our conferences this last Thursday and after reading your blog post, I will definitely be ready for the next one. I especially liked how you had things ready for younger siblings. I used to work at a school that actually gave the students the day off for conferences and the teacher had conferences throughout the day. I would always create a little seating area outside of my classroom with magazines and books the kids had created. If a parent arrived early for a conference they had a nice comfy place to sit and materials to keep them occupied. Thanks for all your great ideas!

Regards,

Christina

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Angela's 4th Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.