At the high school level, many schools see a decrease in attendance for parent-teacher conferences. Parents are busy, and with the many digital ways that parents can connect with teachers and schools, fewer parents feel the need for a face-to-face conversation with their child’s teacher. But parent-teacher conferences are important. While any family involvement in education can lead to positive benefits for students and teachers alike, sitting down for a personal conversation has other benefits that cannot be replicated in our digital communications.
At Antilles High School in Puerto Rico, we set a goal of improving parent-teacher conferences both in attendance and in quality. We use this time as an opportunity for teachers to become more aware of the aspirations that parents have for their children academically and for parents to help teachers gain perspective of their own teaching practices. Here are eight ways your school can use to prepare for, conduct, and follow-up with parent conferences.
PRIOR TO THE CONFERENCE
- Communicate with parents and stress the importance of attending this meeting. In addition to receiving district information, our teachers send individual reminder emails or call parents to ensure the date and time of the conference.
- Prepare for the conference. While these things take time, your teachers will have the information and confidence they need to demonstrate their knowledge of a child’s academic progress. We ask our teachers to gather the following items prior to conference day:
- Copy of the student’s schedule
- Current grades from all classes
- Student behavior reports from all classes and the attendance clerk
- Statement of the student’s behavior from all teachers
- IEP or 504 plan
- Examples of student work (both strong academic work and work that needs improvement)
Our teachers then spend time organizing the materials and data into an explainable format. They prepare notes for each student, starting with a positive note or statement, in order to paint a picture of each student’s academic progress. In addition, they reread IEPs or 504 plans to ensure they are meeting accommodations. Being well organized demonstrates to parents that a teacher knows the child as an individual.
- Conduct a conference rehearsal. If our teachers expect difficult parents, they rehearse the conference with a colleague until they feel comfortable. A good rehearsal builds confidence.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
- Discuss progress and growth. To help our teachers conduct a strong conference, they follow a similar conference structure. After greeting parents, our teachers start with a positive statement to provide a warm welcome. Next begins the discussion of the child’s progress. We ask our teachers to:
- Help parents understand academic or behavior data.
- Demonstrate student progress against learning goals and identify goals that need to be addressed.
- Compare the child’s ability in the content area in relation to the student’s peers.
- Show examples of the child’s best work that demonstrate learning strengths.
- Walk parents through an assignment and/or assessment where the student did not demonstrate mastery to illustrate areas to improve.
- Gain a better understanding of the child from the parents’ perspective. Our teachers spend time asking questions and listening to the parents. They solicit input from parents about the child’s previous learning environments and discover successful instructional approaches and others that had negative outcomes. Our teachers also ask parents about their hopes and dreams for their child and how they can help them reach those goals.
- Seek solutions collaboratively with parents. When discussing an academic or behavioral problem, we coach our teachers to avoid judgment calls, such as “your child needs to study more” or that the student “needs to do homework.” Instead, a better way to approach parents is to make a statement like, “How can we work together to ensure that your child is successful? How can we work together to resolve this problem?” These questions help communicate that this a collaborative approach and that all of us are on the same team to help the child.
- Make an action plan. Our teachers spend the last few minutes of their time discussing how they and the family can work together to support the student and establish lines of communication. It is helpful to be specific about the kinds of things a teacher will do, how long they will do them, and how often they will check with the family concerning the student’s progress. This is also the time when teachers suggest ideas and strategies that parents can use at home to support their child. We close the conference by making parents aware of other opportunities for them to be involved in the school by providing them with a school monthly calendar.
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
- Follow up with a thank-you note. It important that both teachers and parents understand that the conference it not the end of the conversation. Have teachers follow up with the family with a thank-you note. In the note, ask if parents have any questions concerning the conference and agree to keep in contact on a regular basis.
While this is certainly not an all-inclusive list, it serves as a beginning point. Remember, this meeting is about telling the story of the school and how the faculty, staff, and administration plan to help students meet their academic goals.
Parent-teacher conferences are excellent opportunities to involve family members in local schools. How do you make the most of parent-teacher conferences?
Dr. Thomas Whittle is the principal of Antilles High School in Puerto Rico. He is a Vietnam veteran and a retired sergeant major. His awards include a Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. This is Whittle’s 22nd year as a secondary school principal. He is the 2018 DODEA Principal of the Year.