Stress Free Parent-Teacher Conferences
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.
Before Conferences: Keep the siblings happy with books and activities.
During Conferences: Showcase growth through a child's portfolio (which will become an end-of-the-year gift).
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!).