As I mentioned last month, discussion between students and teachers is essential to getting students to dig deeper into learning. When you think of the parent conference, the discussion that occurs is just as important. It allows you to dig a bit deeper into the students’ lives and allows a parent to get you know a little bit better. It is the element of family engagement that matters for student success.
Research shows that family involvement in education can lead to positive benefits for children, such as increasing attendance, higher academic performance and improved attitudes about school. There are several ways to make the experience beneficial for both.
First, send a message home to parents prior to the conference. This can be an invitation, created by you or by the student, if in the elementary grades, to remind the parent of their conference and that you are looking forward to seeing them. This can also be a letter, a flyer or phone call.
Next, be prepared with student work. Having student portfolios or test folders ready for parents will allow you to discuss any academic areas that of concern. They also allows parents to view their children’s work and see what is being accomplished. Allow the conference to focus on the learning that is occurring. Providing specific strategies to the parents and explaining how to use them provides a way to assist at home. Also providing handouts or reference sheets allow the parents to have something to utilize when they are at home working with their child. This little gesture allows the conference to focus on the connection between school and family.
We know how hard we all work to create classrooms that are inviting and warm. Creating an environment that welcomes parents will allow them to feel at ease when they enter your classroom. This could simply include student work being displayed around the classroom or showing them the areas where their child works. Show parents their child’s seat or desk and allow them to walk around the room to see where their child spends a majority of the day. You might even present an item that was created by the child for them to take home.
Then, while engaged in conversation, allow yourself time to learn more about your student. Be an active listener and ask questions. This is your opportunity to comment on strengths and weaknesses of the students, as well as offering praise for what you have seen. This reassures parents that you value their child and have high expectations for their child. Ask questions pertaining to their likes and dislikes and the child’s learning styles. Allowing parents to share their views on their child’s learning will allow you to learn things that you might not have known.
The connection between school and home is crucial. All parents want the very best for their children, but some parents are reluctant when speaking with teachers. They are trusting you with their most valuable asset, and with so many changes in education, parents want to learn the best ways to assist their child with these changes. It is up to us to begin the dialogue and allow communication to flow between both parties. The Harvard Family Research Project created the following principles when thinking about a great parent-teacher conference.
- Be heard
- Best intentions assumed
- Emphasis on learning
- Home-school connection
- Examples and evidence
- Active listening
- Respect for all
- Dedication to follow-up
Allow parents to be heard and allow yourself to be heard. Keeping the lines of communication open after the conference has ended will allow parents to see just how valuable their child is to you. I wish you all positive parent conferences with nothing but successful outcomes for all.