As a first year teacher, I was terrified of a lot of things when I started my job. I was scared of random observations, overwhelmed by lesson planning, and stressed out by my students’ unique behaviors. I was most intimidated by the thought of holding parent teacher conferences! At my school, every parent is required to attend a 20 minute conference in November…YIKES! I was afraid I wouldn’t be prepared, that they would ask me a question I couldn’t answer, or that they wouldn’t take me seriously.
However, I managed to survive my first round of conferences with the help of my coworkers (and a lot of coffee). Their ideas for running each conference, preparing in general, and some scheduling tips saved my sanity that week.
Here are some of the best ideas I learned and applied during my first year.
Schedule – I was very fortunate that I had flexibility in planning my conference schedule. I allowed the parents to select two days and I assigned them an exact time to arrive. Giving the parents some say in their time slot helped with my attendance (95% of my parents showed up!) and this also allowed me to schedule my conferences strategically.
When placing parents into time slots I made sure to leave myself breaks. I planned to have a break at the halfway point to eat a snack and, let’s be real, use the bathroom! I also made sure to “sandwich” my tougher conferences between my easy ones.
Preparation – To prepare for each child’s conference I created a folder to showcase their important work, their test scores, and the child’s self-assessment. If you use portfolios in your classroom this is easy! I made sure to have important assessments, a writing sample, and the child’s reading score readily available for the conference. I also included a copy of their report card and their standardized test scores to review.
The best thing I included in the child’s folder was their self-evaluation. Before conferences, the children rated themselves in different academic and social areas. These scores showed the parents how their child viewed themselves and we were able to talk about what their child feels they need to work on.
The day of conferences – When a parent arrived I made sure to start with the same question each time…”Before we begin, do you have any questions for me?”. It may seem silly but by asking the parent first I was able to save myself a lot of time. Without asking first, I could spend 20 minutes blabbing about their child’s test scores and the parent could care less because all they want to know is if their child is making friends. Starting with a question helped me focus the conference and left the parent feeling informed about the issues that concerned them.
The little details – The cute details weren’t necessary but helped make a good impression.
- In the hallway, I set up “cute” lined paper and pens with a note to write their child a letter to put in their desk.
- I put coloring books at a table for younger siblings that tagged along.
- In the hallway, I set up a “donation tree”. The donation tree had die-cut apples with supplies we needed for our classroom. Conferences are a great time to stock up on kleenex and gluesticks!
- At my conference table I had pens available, notes about upcoming events, and a box of tissues – luckily the box came home unopened. 🙂
Even though parent-teacher conferences are not exactly what I would consider a fun time, being prepared helped make the experience more enjoyable. My coworkers’ advice helped me feel confident enough to talk to my student’s parents and have productive and painless conferences. Even if you have been teaching for many years I hope that you can use some of these little tricks as spring conferences approach.