10 Ways to Be Ready for Parent-Teacher Conferences All Year Long
- Grades: PreK–K
Unlike grades, which are imperfect measures of progress, and which by themselves are not enough for parent-teacher conferences, assessments give us information. They answer the question of how well we are teaching, and how we can help kids learn better by finding strengths to build on and areas to improve.
Assessments Come in Many Forms
Assessments can include worksheets, games, questions, conversations, student presentations, performance tests, and observations of the child's interaction with people and materials. Written tests are also assessments. They are not for grading student knowledge; they are for the teacher, not the students.
Anecdotal records that reflect each child's overall growth (intellectual, physical, emotional, social, and behavioral), self-confidence, attitude, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, problem-solving abilities, adjustment to kindergarten, and any other significant things are a great way to keep track of individual student development.
Whatever tool or tools you decide to use, take notes. These specific observations and examples will be invaluable at conference time.
2. STUDENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES
The best way to prepare for parent-teacher conferences is to have regular student-teacher conferences. This continual assessment and planning with students will aid greatly in their school achievement. Their own opinions affect how they will perform, and if you know what they think, it will help you help them. If you have been working with your students all along, the results will show at the parent-teacher conferences.
If You Want to Know, Ask the Child
Talk to the children about how they feel they are doing in each area. Ask them what is easy and what is hard. Discuss observations you've made. Use open-ended questions that encourage them to have an exchange with you. Do not blame a child, or imply blame in any way. Be respectful, positive, and supportive: "Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything I have overlooked?" Get honest feedback on your teaching. Make suggestions of things you can both do, not just things that the child must do. Mention what they're doing that's working and celebrate effort. How you relate to and interact with your students makes a big difference. Write down the details of these conferences and share them at parent-teacher conferences to show how you and the child have been working together.
3. STUDENT-TEACHER INTERVIEWS
Learning is a highly individual process. Each child learns in their own way and at their own pace. Remember that it's your responsibility to see that your students learn. You're the teacher; you're the one who chooses to be there and gets paid for it. Helping kids learn is your job.
A Custom Fit
One-size-fits-all lessons aren't appropriate. Give one-on-one interviews to focus on specific lessons, rather than overall achievement, by asking students about their background knowledge, what they know about the subject of the lesson, and what they would like to know. Then you can build the lesson — the whole group time and individualized sessions — around what you have learned from the interviews.
4. STUDENT-DIRECTED LEARNING
Letting students set their own goals, and work at mastering their own levels and beating their own score, is more effective and motivating, and yields better results, than teacher demands and peer competition. These efforts and results are what parents really want to see at parent-teacher conferences.
Goals Are Challenges
Review your notes daily and help students set goals whenever you can. Students love to set and accomplish goals when you present them as fun challenges. I have my students play my own version of the Pac-Man video game in which each dot represents a goal. When a child meets a goal, their Pac-Man eats the dot.
Skills Are Challenges, Too
Mastery learning gives students time to master a skill before they have to move on to the next level or unit of study. I help my students understand the idea of "leveling up" by connecting it to the video game Super Mario Bros. Starting from the bottom, they fill in a chart one skill at a time. The tools they use to work on their skills are their "power-ups." When a skill is mastered, they move up a level.
When children are taught to self-assess and self-correct, they become responsible for their own learning. Teach them to examine their work and use "self-talk" to reflect and ask themselves questions about what they know and understand, as well as what they still need to work on.
Self-Assessment Fosters Responsibility
My students don't get report cards for the first parent-teacher conferences of the year, so I had them make their own. This was a wonderful, easy, and fun way to get them to assess themselves. Some were very honest; some need to reflect a little more.
6. PORTFOLIOS & PROCESS-FOLIOS
A portfolio or process-folio collects samples of actual work produced by a student. At parent-teacher conferences, process-folios show parents that you are monitoring their child's learning progress, and allow them to see the data for themselves.
The Depth and Breadth of Student Performance
Portfolios can showcase a student's best work, work that shows growth, work that needs improvement, or everyday work. Process-folios contain a collection of a student's work over time, showing the progress of a written piece, the steps used to solve a problem, or the stages of a project. I put together portfolios of tests and monthly center work, which clearly show areas of strength and weakness, and process-folios of my students' writing. In addition, I have my students make folders of a few items their parents can take home with them.
7. PARENT INVOLVEMENT
Make it known early on that you hope for and expect parents to be involved in their children's education. Suggest that they come in for at least ten minutes a week. This will allow them to see their children in the school setting, as well as demonstrate that they care. Involved parents already know what to expect at parent-teacher conferences.
If You Want Something, Ask for It
Inform parents and families of your need for assistants in the classroom and at home, chaperones for field trips, volunteers to put up displays, presenters to share their skills, helpers in the school and community, etc. Sometimes parents don't know that teachers need all the help they can get.
Go the Extra Mile
Hold parent or family workshops some evenings. Go over a subject you're teaching in class, discuss things that can be done to help children at home, make games or crafts, hold a question and answer session, teach parents continuing education skills, etc.
8. SCHOOL-HOME CONNECTION
Develop a consistent connection between school and home by maintaining a regular system of contacting parents with news, updates, comments, and concerns.
Let Me Tell You About . . .
On Fridays, I send a notebook home with each child that explains what we worked on during the week. Parents or family members are expected to look at the notebooks and write a letter back if they can. I also have parents come into the classroom at the end of the day to sign their kids out, so that I can speak with them.
Read more about the school-home connection notebook in my post "Score! Teachers and Parents Team Up to Reach a Common Goal."
Tell Me About . . .
Have parents provide any information that will help you understand, inspire, and teach their child better. Ask for feedback: "What is Suzie saying about school?" Get the parent's perspective on how the child is doing. You can also request suggestions of effective strategies they have used at home that you can try at school.
9. CONFERENCE PREP MATERIALS
- A list of possible topics and questions parents can bring up at the conference. At least suggest that parents think beforehand about what they would like to say and ask at the conference. If you really want to be prepared, have parents send their questions back to you.
- Conference guidelines and a prewritten explanation of school policies and classroom practices so that you have more time at the conference talking about the child.
- Information about yourself.
- A list of tools you use in the classroom that parents can use to help their child.
- An invitation for the children to attend. You can't evaluate someone without their point of view on the matter.
10. Conference Follow-Up Materials
After the conference, send a follow-up letter and a thank-you note. Reconfirm any courses of action. Remind parents to jot down notes for the next conference; encourage them to call you with questions or concerns; and assure them they can plan a follow-up meeting if they want.
Implement one or all of these strategies, and you're on your way to making conferences just a little bit easier.
What do you do to get ready for conferences?
Have a thoughtful weekend!