Successful parent-teacher conferences are an excellent way to establish communication pathways and expectations that will make the school year run smoothly.
#1 Have a Variety of Strategies Ready
As the school year has started families may be feeling overwhelmed as they try to support their child in a virtual environment. These three articles contain similar tips that encourage families to be active as well as flexible in their efforts and can provide handy go-to discussion points for improving students’ success online:
Once students are set up for success, many may need extra support to practice new or review previously taught skills and concepts. Teachers should be sure to have a variety of resources ready regarding supplemental practice programs the district has available to help students catch up and move forward. Some resources to look for include programs with: interactive games, graphic organizers, leveled passages, flashcards, and audio support. If unsure of what to recommend, teachers should consult with their school or public librarian whose job it is to know what resources are already purchased for students to use.
#2 Actively Listen Before Responding
When conducting a virtual conference, it is important to actively listen and make sure all concerns are shared before jumping in with solutions. It is easy to think one understands a dilemma and it’s a possible solution, but taking time to let families/caregivers share all details of a situation is critical. Listening shows both that the teacher is truly seeking to understand problems, as well as provides the teacher a bit more time to think through understand the overall sense of the problem.
Additionally, if the school has a policy of including the students in parent/teacher conferences, let the student go first, sharing what s/he thinks have been some of her/his successes and areas of improvement to really impress upon everyone the need for listening to and learning from the student.
#3 Have a Class/Student Expectations Agreement
It is important to go into a parent-teacher conference with the overall goals of the class, as well as the expectations of the student and teacher, already written down for discussion. Too often, students and families have a nebulous understanding of the academic goals of a class and how the requirements of the course are structured to ensure learning. Creating a contract/agreement allows all parties to be on the same page and provides reasoning for the work which contributes significantly to buy-in from the student and ultimately more significant learning. Additionally, it allows for a clean slate if students are falling behind and helps families feel like everyone can begin anew.
Download the free Class/Student Goals and Expectations Agreement Handout and use it during your parent-teacher conferences!
#4 Start and End on a Positive Note
The beginning of a parent/teacher conference is often awkward and can also be tense if families are possibly upset. To break the tension that can occur, especially when the student is not doing well in the class, offering a compliment puts everyone at ease. “Brandon has been enjoying his independent reading book this quarter, and I’m impressed with how much he’s read” or “Kayla is always ready to start class each day, and I appreciate her positive outlook” are some types of statements to open a conversation. Feel free to have a list of potential points already created in case coming up with one at the moment is difficult.
At the end of the conference, even if the meeting has been tense, end with something pleasant so that the exchange overall ends positively. “Thank you so much for helping to support Brandon’s efforts; I look forward to working with him personally next week” or “I know Kayla will be able to get back on track, and I am available via email to answer any further questions or concerns you may have” can be hard statements to make, but teachers should deliver final positive comments without sarcasm or negativity. Ending strongly allows a teacher to maintain professionalism and strength.
#5 Stay Calm, Regardless of the Situation
Finally, no matter what issues arise with technology, frustrations with digital learning, or student achievement, remain positive and calm in the virtual meeting space. When teachers follow all the previous suggestions, especially active listening and preparedness, families must acknowledge that they are being listened to and supported and have less reason to be concerned.
Often, parent/teacher conferences serve families to let out their frustrations with their child, especially in these more trying circumstances. By listening to all of the stress and frustration, families can acknowledge that teachers can sympathize with their issues and (see above) provide tips for success. In this way, the hostility over grades and behavior in class can be addressed without having to make excuses.
If worried about possible hostile situations, make sure to ask an administrator and/or counselor to be present in the virtual space and prepare them ahead of time with possible concerns you think might be voiced.
The world is full of strife and conflict right now, and educators must remember than blaming schools and teachers are some of the only ways families can cope with the stress of working and learning from home. Remember to stay positive, calm, and focus on the class/student contract to make active progress forward.
This year, families and schools need to keep communication lines open and honest. Establishing expectations and follow-up check-ins, sharing responsibilities among all parties, and understanding that everyone is working for the educational and personal growth of students will foster strong positive relationships. Although teachers struggle in this virtual world, they are also setting the example on which their students and families will base much of their own future interactions. Successful parent-teacher conferences are an excellent way to establish communication pathways and expectations that will make the school year run smoothly.
Good luck everyone; fill out the Class/Student Goals and Expectations Agreement Handout, pull together some resource suggestions, practice positive phrases, and showcase your best professional attitude because you can do this!