Parent Teacher Conferences can be stressful, scary, and nerve-wracking, but they should be informative, fun, productive, and focus on ways to help each child be as successful as possible to reach their own goals, parents' goals, and teacher(s)' goals.
1. Be prepared: I know this seems obvious - but go that extra mile. I recommend reading over the report carefully and finding patterns. Note the areas of strengths and challenges per subject and see if these fall under larger categories.
Soandso Student's areas of strength: Participation, understanding of content, and work ethic
Soandso Student's areas of stretch: Organization and study habits
Also, try to have samples of student work that shows their success/growth and other works that demonstrate a need for areas of stretch.
2. Parents have questions and comments - invite them to go first: Many parents come with notes or questions about various areas and it helps them to share these when you get started. By doing so, you can see if you're on the same page or discover any discrepancies.
3. LISTEN: Truly listen and write down what parents have to share. Encourage them to share positives first about their child as they are quite quick to jump to what isn't working and what their child needs to improve upon (as these areas are what parents often see first in report cards!). Too often, I've seen teachers dominate the conference not allowing the parents to say much at all.
4. Parents view children as extensions of themselves: Be sensitive to this and be supportive! Parents work very hard to help their child become the person you encounter on a regular basis. When a child isn't working to their full potential, parents can often view this as a personal attack.
5. Include the Child's Perspective: If the child cannot be at the conference, I highly recommend you have students reflect upon their learning, their areas of strength/stretch and set goals for themselves along with their action plans to reach those goals. Share these with the parents as this sometimes correlates with teachers' and parents' viewpoints, and often highlight discrepancies. Ideally, having the student present is amazing as the pathway to open communication can be much clearer.
6. Remember to start with positives and end with positives. You can insert the areas of stretch in between, but it's important to share the highlights and have the parents remember all the successes their child is having in school - no matter how small - they're relevant.
7. Focus on solutions and stop harping on the problems. When parents and teachers just complain about a child's lack of organizational skills, nothing gets accomplished - come up with an action plan - such as a way to compile all students' subject folders into one binder and having a clear folder that is labeled: Homework/Work To Do and Homework/Work To Turn In. Parents appreciate proactive positive problem-solving and helpful solutions more than just being stuck and rehashing their child's struggle.
8. Don't make assumptions! Have extra copies of the report ready to distribute. Don't assume parents have read the report - some of them may not have had time or access if their internet wasn't working (for online reports) or if their printer was jammed, or if they just couldn't seem to locate it. Also, don't assume parents know of all their child's successes in school. Perhaps their child goes home and doesn't share much at all of what they're doing, learning, or what's happening socially. Share these items and you'll be surprised how much parents may not know about their child's successes and/or struggles.
9. Provide extra resources: This tip really goes hand in hand with the preparation tip, but it's a lovely way to end the conference. Give a list of websites that can help stretch students' skills in various subject areas that you have found to be beneficial. Also, provide handouts from Chip Wood's Yardsticks for what to expect at different grade levels, academically, socially, and emotionally (have copies for your grade level, the one below, and the one above your grade level to help parents see where their child falls in various categories). Any other resources that you think would be beneficial to distribute and relevant (such as ways to stay organized or study tips), provide these as well (I recommend having these resources also available online in case they misplace the items you give them).
10. Spread the love: Just as children need our love and support - so do parents. They need to know you care about their child (genuinely) and that you are there to help and support the child. Part of your job is to also spread that love to the parents - it's a partnership after all!
11. Be available: While the conference is a perfect place to talk about successes and areas of stretch, it's not the only time you should check in with parents. Invite them to reach out to you with questions/comments by e-mail/phone (whatever you are most comfortable with). I have a policy that I get back to all within 24 hours. If, for some reason, they do not hear back from me after 24 hours, I ask that they re-send their e-mail or leave another voicemail to help me get back to them in a timely fashion.
What have you found to be successful for parent teacher conferences?
1. Home for everything: Have a clearly marked home for everything in your classroom. Spend time in making it look presentable so you feel happy, comfortable, and proud of the space.
2. Colors and Numbers: Color code and number your items. Have your students learn the color coding/numbering system or, depending upon their age, have them help you. I have four large pillars in my classroom. These are decorated with different colors and numbers. This allows me to have students meet in groups by number or color and they know where to go. I also number students' binders and expect them to return their binders back to their designated shelf in number order. Their numbers also correlate with their seating charts. I like to keep the same number throughout the year so students have a clear space/home every time they come to my classroom. However, I mix students up a lot in a variety of group work and partner work and they physically pick new areas to work in on a regular basis.
3. Accessibility: All materials need to be clearly labeled and easily accessible for students. Items that are only for you, the teacher, should be out of the reach or placed in a secure place. If your supplies are next to student supplies, don't be surprised if students use your personal supplies. Also, make sure that there are no blind spots in your classroom. Organize the desks/furniture in a way that you can see the whole room and you can easily move around the classroom. Finally, only have things out that you don't mind students touching or interacting with. I wouldn't have rulers available unless an activity calls for them. This eliminates the "ow, so-and-so hit me with a ruler" - no ruler, no hitting with a ruler!
4. Defined place for each student: Every student should have a clearly marked spot in the classroom - a place they can call their own - whether it's their own desk, their own cubby and/or their own hook for elementary students or their own consistent place to sit for middle/high school students. If you have students come to the carpet as well as their own desk - provide them with a spot on the carpet as well. Knowing that every activity and lesson will provide them with a space they can call their own is comforting and extremely needed for some students! Students crave predictability and it helps everyone to know that a space is reserved just for them. If a student arrives late, their spot is waiting for them. This sends a signal that they are missed. Imagine the signal it sends when a student arrives late and the carpet seems full and now students have to adjust to allow the other student a place to fit. If you choose to have students choose their own seat, some students will inevitably feel left out and it will encourage more of a social experience. Some will gravitate towards the back and corners, hoping to be invisible. Some will look uncertain of where to sit and where they will feel safe. Enough social and emotional elements are happening during the school day. Provide a seating chart, that you can always change if a student speaks to you about it or if you notice that some seat assignments aren't helping the students do their best work.
5. Lighting/Accessories: Invest in lighting and comfortable furniture that make the classroom space feel more inviting and less sterile! This makes a huge difference! I like the clip on lights you can clip onto bulletin boards, floor lamps in corners of rooms, and table lamps in corners of the rooms. If you can invest in lighting or even a dimmer switch, go for it! Research indicates that we tend to be more creative in a room that isn't as bright. I avoid florescent lights like the plague (which means, they are mostly off in my classroom). For those who've experienced wedding planning, spend as much time thinking about your classroom design as you may have thought about for your own wedding.
6. Displays: Post information/art work at students' eye level - be careful of posting things too high that you really want your students to see and interact with. Try to post things created BY, WITH, and FOR your students - make it belong to the classroom. Make the displays neat, clean, and don't feel the need to fill up the walls. Too much can also be distracting to the students.
7. Organization Checks: Encourage your students to be organized with their materials and conduct regular checks to help them keep their areas neat and tidy.
8. Material Managers: Have students take on the job of material manager, help them keep their areas clean and organized.
9. Play Music: Play a song during set-up of activities that require certain materials and during clean-up to make the process more enjoyable - it can also act as the time limit to get the room set and cleaned! I play music at the beginning of many of my classes as we start with a meditation. This music is calm and it magically makes the kids act as if they're entering a zen sanctuary. Without the music it feels like another regular classroom. It is important to model and demonstrate your expectations before students know what to do in response to the music you play!
10. Teacher Daily Closing Procedure: After the students are gone, spend the last 30 minutes of each day closing out your classroom/day. Spend 10-15 minutes setting up for the next day (Reset your schedule, post your morning message, check that things are where they belong, set the first activity on desks if applicable). Then spend the last 10-15 minutes at your work station - reorganizing, filing, and putting things away, while also taking out anything you feel you will need.
What ideas do you have to make your classroom cozy and organized?