Growing up in the south, I learned to always put guest's needs above my own. I consider parents — as well as anyone in our classroom who doesn't use the space on a daily basis — as guests and I work hard to make them feel welcome during conferences. Keeping a limited budget in mind, I seek ideas that will offer the greatest return on my investment.
In second grade, we make a few class books throughout the year. These are items I always put out on display for parents to view while waiting for their conference time. I've seen amazing books put together by several creative colleagues and bloggers; however, simplicity works best for me. I usually bind our class books by punching holes along the side and placing three brass fasteners in the holes to keep the pages secure. One of my favorite tools to create class scrapbooks is Smilebox. You can read more about using Smilebox to create stylish digital scrapbooks that you can print off for viewing! Sometimes I'll print the books for children to take home as a memory.
Children love coming in the day after conferences and seeing notes their parents left for them. I leave a variety of stationery and cards out on the table along with colorful markers and stickers. I invite parents to write a note to their child that I will place on their desk the following morning. Their faces light up seeing their special letters from their loved ones. For those parents that were unable to make it to conferences, I sometimes send the stationery home in a sealed envelope a few days before the conference or write the child a note myself.
When setting up the display table in the hall, I add fresh flowers or a plant from my classroom. I include a digital picture frame sharing photos of the children on an automatic loop that repeats. Keeping this table organized allows parents to easily find and use the information the way you intended. I keep either an envelope or a basket out for their completed letters to the children. This way, nothing gets lost or misplaced. I even keep a conference schedule posted on the exterior of our door so that parents can double-check their time, if needed.
This past year, I tried something different with our bulletin board display. I took a traditional activity and decided to augment it using the free app, Aurasma. You can read more about setting this up for your conference or open house by clicking here.
This year, our students used the new app, ColAR Mix. It was a ton of fun! Students selected a coloring page that I had previously printed for them. They did their best coloring. Then, I surprised the students by showing them how their pictures literally pop off of the page and come to life by dancing around, flying through the sky, breathing fire, and more. It was a magical moment in our classroom. I wanted the parents to have an interactive activity to do while waiting. This was certainly a hit! I sent home a letter prior to conferences for parents to download the free app. If you're interested in seeing more about the ColAR Mix app, please click here. The children were so inspired to develop a creative story to go along with their character. This made for a lively and beautiful display outside of our room.
When parents enter the room, there is the soft buzz of classical music in the background and they see a space that is organized, clean, and welcoming. I have lamps lit throughout so I don't have to rely on the harsh overhead fluorescent lighting. Additionally, I have the individual child's portfolio ready to show. The seating space is prepared for both parents to comfortably join the discussion.
Because everyone tends to talk a lot at conferences, I have a mini bottle of water set out for each parent. I have a mini-fridge in my room, so I'm able to keep the bottles chilled. The evening before conferences, I swing by the grocery store and just pick up enough bottles for the conference. If I don't use them all, then I have extra water for myself. It's a win-win!
I keep a small basket of mints on the table for parents. At first, I just thought it was a nice gesture that seemed like a good idea. However, I was amazed last year at how many actually took a mint and popped it in during the conference. So, I'll certainly continue to have these available for future conferences.
I learned quickly to have paper available for note taking. Of course, I always kept paper available for my own use, but I never thought to have it out for parents. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I had just not thought to do it. After my first few conferences, parents kept asking to borrow a piece of paper to jot notes down. So, I now keep paper available for both parents during conferences. I find that when the resources are available, they're used.
From experience, I've learned to keep other pieces of information handy. Parents often ask what books or series I recommend. Now, I keep a few popular favorites on hand to show parents. Two of my favorites to show off are the Who Was series and the Interactive History Adventure books. My kids eat these up! They're filled with such great information and told in a narrative manner. These literary non-fiction books are always my go to books to share.
Having the child's portfolio available is a great tool, but I also keep other artifacts out to highlight the creative work the child does. Our students publish work digitally, so I often have our iPad close by so that I can pull up a piece of work that the child was working on either independently or with a friend. Parents love hearing their child's voice during the conference. When they can see their child's art, read their writing, hear their voice, and observe the collaboration that took place, they gain a sense of appreciation that fills their hearts with pride. I love these moments!
When parents feel welcomed, they are more at ease. So, I always go the extra step to show them how much we appreciate their support in the classroom. Conferences are one opportunity to connect and strengthen that partnership.
Freebie: The credit goes to finding this handy form on Mrs. Wills' Kindergarten blog (love her site!). This is the simple form I use to jot notes down for conferences. Feel free to click here to download your copy!