Monday, November 1

Preparing for Conferences

On a beautiful fall day with crisp leaves blowing and the smell of burning fire places, I locked myself in my basement.  I sat at my desk, surrounded by files, papers, notes and record keeping books and didn’t move for nine hours.  Occasionally, I took breaks to eat, but I brought the food downstairs and ate amidst the chaos.  I was preparing for parent-teacher conferences.

I am an incredibly organized person.  I have systems in place for every part of my teaching.  Why does it take me so long to prepare for each 25 minute conference?  I don’t know how to do less.  I have two goals for each conference.

My first goal is to thoroughly present information to the parent.  I approach each conference with a structure that paints a picture.  I want the parent to understand each aspect of their child’s academic performance.  I remember sitting at one of my own children’s conferences (a million years ago) and the teacher said, “She is doing well.  Any questions?)  I communicate specific strengths in layman’s terms and gently explain deficits.  More importantly, I describe areas that concern me and what my plan of action will be to remediate.  If I don’t know (GASP!), I admit it and explain that I will keep digging and pulling other resources until I figure it out.

I treat each conference as if it were my own child.  What did I want to know?

 The second goal for me is to review all that has occurred during the first seven weeks of school.  What has worked?  What isn’t working?  Have I missed anything regarding a specific skill, for example, how is Stan Student doing with main idea? What are my immediate and long term goals?  I need to paint a picture for myself.

By immersing myself in the progress of each student, I am a better teacher.  This check-in insures that I am not missing anything.  I create written reports (both scores and anecdotal notes) for the parent to take with them.  Who could remember everything I say?  They also have a written record of concerns I may have about their child.  (We give out official report cards later.)

When the parent arrives, I always thank them for the privilege of working with their child.  I always begin by sharing a story that reflects something interesting or special that the child has done within the classroom.  It could be as simple as a random act of kindness. 

I ask them to interrupt me at any point if I’m going too fast or they don’t understand.  If we run out of time, I schedule more time.  Nothing else matters but sharing their child’s progress.  Granted, some conferences can be stressful, especially when there are learning issues that need to be addressed.  By creating an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie, we can focus on what is most important. 

So, I missed a beautiful fall day, but it will be worth it on conference day and all the days that follow. 


paul bogush said...

Wow...I get an entire 5 minutes with parents! With 25 minutes I could probably go beyond the only piece of info that the parents seem to care about--"What's my kid's grade?"

"I approach each conference with a structure that paints a picture." Love that line!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight on the parent perspective.

Lyn Hilt said...

I like how you stated that if you run out of time, you schedule more time. And I am sure you take that initiative on your own to ensure your parents are kept informed of their child's progress.
I'm considering making a shift to student-led conferences next year. How would you feel about that practice from a teacher's perspective?

Sarah said...

Good for you for being so thorough! I hope you have good turnout... I've always taught at a regional program with students living 30 to 40 minutes away and both parents working. I'm lucky if I see one or two.

I bet the parents really appreciate all that prep and planning!

Nancy Hniedziejko (Nancy Ehrlich) said...

Hi Lyn,
I love the idea of student-led conferences. I always meet with my students before the parent conference to let them know what I will discuss. It would be much more time efficient if I could meet with everyone together. To me, it seems as if a piece of the equation is missing by not having the student present. I think many teachers would be uncomfortable with the idea, but I would love to try it. Also, I'm a bit obsessive about keeping parents informed. I don't like anyone to be surprised. My conferences always feel like a team meeting because I keep in touch continually. It sets a tone that facilitates the best interest of the student. I shared this approach with the teacher I'm mentoring. Be proactive! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I appreciate it!

Unknown said...

Wow! Where do I sign my kids up for your class?? It sounds like you are a wonderful teacher. I think becoming a mother has changed some of my thinking about how to work with parents. Before having my boys, I didn't realize what these parents were intrusting me with every single day. I love that you thank the parents for the opportunity of spending time teaching their children. I know as a mom that would start the conference off on a great note for me!