Effective Parent Conferences Cynthia Carbone
Check out Cynthia’s Book, How Writers Grow: A Guide for Middle School Teachers,
published by Heinemann.
Parent communication is a very significant part of your job. It
is difficult or impossible to teach a child whose parents are not
working with you as part of the team, and conferences provide crucial
opportunities to update and strategize. Parent conference week is
an exhausting time, but the following tips can help you immeasurably:
Ongoing dialog relieves the pressure of parent conference time. Invite
folks to call with questions; make sure your door is open; be accessible
and supportive at all times.
- Don't take parents by surprise. Throughout the year, you should
be sending out regular updates about class activities as well
as individual progress reports. If a student is floundering, give
some warning before report cards. And the conference should not
be the first time the parents get a clue that their child is struggling.
(By the way, it's also a nice idea to send out certificates of
praise when a child does something special or commendable.)
- Be incredibly well-organized. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Have all the grades, student portfolios, and other documentation
right there. Don't be looking for stuff at the last minute. And
speaking of documentation, I learned this the hard way: keep specific
dates of and notes about incidents or concerns involving your
students. It's very hard to reconstruct later, and it greatly
enhances your credibility when you have these things in writing.
- Use the student's own input as well. Prior to the conference,
have each child complete a self-evaluation form. It is very interesting
to see how kids think they are doing, where they feel they need
help, and what they are most proud of. This helps give "bones"
to the conference.
- Remember that parents are not objective about their offspring.
It's a plain fact. You have to be diplomatic and tactful. Offer
no criticism without a constructive suggestion or proposed strategy.
Make sure that you point out positives, not just problems. It
really backfires if you are too harsh, no matter how difficult
a child may be.
- You don't have to have all the answers. It's okay to ask parents
if they have any suggestions or insights. You really need to enlist
their support or you're fighting a lonely and losing battle.
- When you run out of things to say (and you will) ask them if
THEY have any questions. And if they do, don't be afraid of a
long pause before you answer. Reflect. Think about it. Your thoughtful
demeanor will mean much more than a hasty superficial response.