Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 10: Parent-Teacher Conferences

I said, a while back here, that I would share some advice on parent-teacher conferences. Well, it's that time of year. You've probably had your conferences already or will have them soon, and conferences are certainly forefront in my mind right now. Here we go.

First, read A Shrewdness of Apes' tips on parent-teacher conferences. She covers a lot of ground there, so much that I have fairly little to add. But I'll try to add in my own experiences.

If you are a middle or high school teacher, look into doubling up in a classroom with a grade partner. You probably teach some or all of the same kids, and you can save the parents a little time and get them in and out more quickly. This is also a good strategy if you know you have some prickly, controversial parents--they are less likely to get demanding or argumentative if there is a third party in the room.

Have as much evidence of students' learning prepared as you can. Collect notebooks or journals, provide portfolios or some recent work, refresh your bulletin boards. Let parents see what their kids have been doing (or perhaps not doing). They appreciate having some tangible proof of what's happening and what's not.

I'm not a big fan of having kids participate in the conferences, but you often don't have any choice. When this happens, I like letting the kid start the conference--"What do you think about your grade? What do you think you're doing well? What do you think you need to improve?" You will be surprised by how honest and reflective they are when cornered by both their teacher and their parent.

Try to comment on "the whole child"--if there's any negative news to report, it will likely go down a little smoother with the parents if you can say something that is true and positive. Comment on his or her helpfulness to peers, respect and politeness to adults, something along those lines. Just like teachers and children, parents don't like to feel like they're doing everything wrong. You don't necessarily have to lead with something good, particularly if you have limited time, but you should try to mention something good at some point.

Make sure you have a written record of every parent who shows. Often your school will have a sign-in sheet, but if they don't provide you with one, provide one yourself. Document, document, document! And if you make follow-up calls to parents you don't see, and you can't get a hold of them, document that too.

If you have extras of recent handouts from the school, bulletins, book orders, whatever, put them out for parents to see. This is a good time to make sure everyone is up to date about events in the classroom and the wider school community. It's also something for parents to read while they're waiting.

Be a good neighbor if you find yourself not very busy--if your neighbor down the hall has a line a mile long, help to police this line and keep everyone calm and amused.

Finally, plan a nice easy day for yourself for the day after parent-teacher conferences. You will be tired. Don't launch any crazy projects or anything like that the day afterwards. You won't feel like it.
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