Our first quarter of school is winding down, which means report cards and parent-teacher conferences are on the horizon. Both are great ways to communicate your students' progress with their parents. While report cards provide an opportunity for me to share information with parents, they tend to be one-sided. I provide all the information, and the parent reads it while trying to decipher if my comment, “Your son is a wonderful storyteller,” means their child is a gifted writer or challenged by telling the truth. Conferences on the other hand allow for meaningful, two-way conversations about each child’s strengths, and the areas where more help and support are needed. This week I’ll share with you my tips for writing clear and meaningful report card comments and setting the stage for an informative conference that your parents will thank you for.
Over the years I have culled a collection of my own report card comments that help me create new comments year after year. As you get ready to write your comments this year, I invite you to visit my post, "101 Report Card Comments to Use Now," to get a few ideas of your own. You can even read a complete set of my saved comments to help you write your own (or just go ahead and copy mine!)
Click on the image above to visit my original post: "101 Report Card Comments to Use Now"
Start and end on a positive note
Provide specific information across several areas including personal attributes, behavior, work habits, communication skills and curricular areas
State a specific goal for each student that you will be working on during the next card marking
Save your comments to refer to next year
Create a file for each student that includes their last report card or progress report, assessment data, reading levels, samples or work you’d like to share, and any notes you have made on the student.
About a week before conferences, send a personal note to each parent reminding them of their conference time and thanking them in advance for attending this important meeting.
Update your hallway display for parents to enjoy while they wait.
Purchase candy and water bottles to offer parents during the conferences.
Plan to dress for the occasion. You want to look professional. If you are a new teacher, check with your administrator and/or other teachers in your building to learn what is expected and acceptable.
Print out a copy of your scheduled meetings that includes both parents’ first and last names next to their child’s name. I learned this lesson the hard way last year when, five minutes into a conference with Mrs. Chen about my student Jeffrey Chen, I realized she was the mother of a student whose last name was completely different. Now, that was a little embarrassing!
Create a warm and inviting spot to meet. If you are using student desks, add a tablecloth, plant or flowers, and put out some mints/candy and water bottles to welcome your guests.
Set out paper and pens for both you and the parents to take notes.
Place a small clock on the table to help keep each conference to its allotted time. Have a calendar available in case you need to schedule a follow-up meeting.
If you plan to share student portfolios, arrange them in the order of the conferences, along with the student files you have prepared.
Set up a laptop or tablet outside your room for parents to browse your class website or a slideshow of photos taken during the year. Put out sign-up sheets for upcoming volunteer opportunities, and a class wish list for possible donations.
Be approachable. Sit next to your parents or at a round table if possible. Sitting across from parents can sometimes have that teacher vs. parent feel.
Be honest. Communicate specific information parents about what you are seeing and the positive or negative impact it may be having on the student's learning. Focus your discussion only on things that can be changed.
Avoid speaking in teacherese. Educational jargon and acronyms may be second nature to us, but it's best to speak in clear, standard language that people outside of education can understand.
Work together to forge solutions. Share ideas on how you and the parent can work together. If a child needs extra support, develop the plan with the parent or with their consent.
Take notes on what is said and write down any promises you make. In the past I have told parents I would get them a copy of a booklist or perhaps a phone number, and the next day I couldn’t remember who I told what. Now I write EVERYTHING down.
Respect the allotted time slot. Our conferences are 20 minutes and scheduled back-to-back. If each conference runs over the allocated time by only 2 or 3 minutes, I'd be in a real bind by the end of the night. If there is more that needs to be discussed at the end of the conference time slot, schedule another meeting or phone call to finish up.
Take the rest of the night off. Don’t even take your school bag home. You deserve a break!
Send a thank you note to parents expressing your appreciation for them taking the time to speak with you. This can also be done via a class newsletter or email.
Follow-up on any notes you made during your meetings. For example, if you decided with the parents that using a behavior contract would be beneficial, get the contract started by the date you said you would.
Here's hoping that your report card writing and parent-teacher conferences go smoothly! I'd love to hear your comments, tips or suggestions for this busy time of year in the comment section below!