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Pawlas on PR for Principals...

Getting the Most Out of
Parent-Teacher Conferences


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A student's success in school often results from the combined efforts of two of the most important people in that student's life: parents and teachers. Notice I said parents and teachers. Too often, parent-teacher conferences are full of one-way communication; the teacher does all the talking. But the aim of every conference with parents -- especially the first conference of the school year -- should be for both parties to share information that will begin a yearlong conversation that has the student's best interests at its core.

PROVIDE PARENT POINTERS
IN YOUR SCHOOL NEWSLETTER

The first scheduled conference of the school year is an important opportunity for parents to share information about the child. That's why, when I was a principal, I always included in the school newsletter I sent home before conferences some topics for parents to think about. I asked parents to think about helpful information they might share about their child's

  • reaction to school.
  • previous school experiences, both positive and negative.
  • home responsibilities.
  • reactions to recent changes in the family or household.
  • interests or hobbies outside of school.
  • special needs, such as medication, nutrition, allergies, or health aids.

    [content block] My principal colleagues and I also included some questions that we encouraged parents to ask at the first conference:

  • What are ways I can support school experiences at home?
  • What is the best way to contact you if I have concerns or questions during the year?
  • What are my child's strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does my child get along with others?
  • Can we develop a system for communicating, such as passing an assignment notebook back and forth, to ask and answer questions?

    In addition, I always encouraged teachers to work with parents to establish common goals to work on during the school term.

    Because teachers were aware that I shared those questions and suggestions, they were able to have materials and responses prepared that would help make each conference an effective two-way exchange.

    STUDENT WORK SAMPLES
    OFFER PROOF OF GROWTH

    The first conference is also a wonderful time to share examples of students' work. All the teachers in my school kept those work samples in a folder, and added to that folder all year long. At conferences held later in the school year all of the samples were shared. In most cases, those work samples clearly reflected the students' growth.

    All of the papers were returned to the students at the end of the school year. But technology makes it possible to scan and retain samples of student work across the grades. Today, schools can keep a veritable and virtual "history of students' work" throughout their school careers.

    I emphasized to teachers that my most important advice about first conferences is to make a point of closing the conference on a positive note. That will set the stage for the next conference and for open communication throughout the school year.

    THE PRE-CONFERENCE
    FACULTY MEETING

    All of the above strategies and information were reviewed at a family meeting (that's what we called our faculty meetings) before the first conferences were held. All teachers, especially those who were new to teaching or to the school, appreciated the process we used.

    In addition, teachers kept a record of materials, topics and issues, and suggestions that were discussed at the parent-teacher meeting on a conference report form. That form was kept in a folder and could be used as a reference for later conferences. Teachers sent their completed forms to me so I could review them. Those forms helped me get to know the students in my school, and they helped me to be aware of special issues or problems that might be a reason for me to meet with parents.

    Meeting with parents and guardians is a major responsibility shared by all educators. Those meetings can be successful if prior planning occurs before the meetings. The effective use of parent-teacher conferences can be one of the keys to success of a school's overall communication plan.

    NEXT TIME: Newsletters: An Essential Tool for Every Principal

    Article by George Pawlas
    Copyright Education World 2005



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