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Meeting With the Parents -- Making the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

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Curriculum CenterResearch has shown that parental involvement is the most important factor in a student's success in school. For many parents, however, that involvement is limited to attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Learn how to make the most of the opportunity! Included: Specific strategies for involving urban parents and a printable conference planning sheet and conference report form.

Stew Pruslin, who teaches third grade at J. T. Hood School, in North Reading, Massachusetts, will never forget one of his first parent-teacher conferences.

"My first year teaching," Pruslin told Education World, "I had a rabbit that I let roam free in the classroom. During my second parent-teacher conference ever, I looked past the mother who was facing me and saw that the rabbit had cornered a soccer ball and was trying to mate with it. As the rabbit bounced vigorously up and down on the ball, I had to do everything I could to keep the woman's attention in my direction while trying not to react to what I was watching right behind her. Needless to say, I heard barely a word that mother said!"

Whatever your experiences with parent-teacher conferences might be, research shows that parental involvement is the most important factor in a child's success in school. You've gotta get them there -- no matter what it takes.

WHAT ADMINISTRATORS CAN DO

Administrators can increase parental attendance at conferences in the following ways:

Make parents aware of conference dates and goals.

  • Announce dates and times repeatedly -- at PTA meetings, open houses, technology nights, sports events, and school assemblies.
  • Publish the schedule in school newsletters and post it on the school Web site.
  • Create a hallway or office bulletin board devoted to conferences.
  • Provide conference information in as many languages as necessary to reach all parents.
  • Wherever possible, include information on conference goals and the reasons parental attendance is important.
Make it as easy as possible for every parent to attend the conferences.

  • Develop a flexible schedule that includes early morning, late afternoon, and evening conference times.
  • Consider scheduling 20 to 30 minute sessions, rather than the typical 15-minute time slots, or set aside additional time so teachers can schedule longer conferences as needed.
  • Arrange for school counselors, office staff, or parent volunteers to telephone parents, remind them of appointments, and encourage them to attend.
  • Talk to the PTA about providing childcare, transportation, and refreshments.
  • Make sure translators will be available, if needed.
  • Let parents know what services will be provided.

Prepare teachers to conduct successful conferences.

  • Provide teachers with in-service training on conducting successful conferences.
  • Provide teachers with information and skills for dealing with a variety of parent-related issues.
  • Make sure teachers are familiar with district and school policies for dealing with parent-related issues.

WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO

Teachers can also help increase parental attendance:

Schedule conferences and notify parents.

  • Send home personal letters to notify parents of conference dates. Outline an agenda that will interest them and emphasize the importance of the conference to their children's education.
  • Schedule conferences for students who have siblings in the same school first and coordinate conference times with the siblings' teachers. Do everything possible to avoid scheduling siblings' conferences on different days or at widely disparate times.
  • Base the length of the conferences on the needs of the students. If necessary, schedule two consecutive periods with parents you suspect might require more time.
  • Send home personal invitations to the conferences and ask parents to RSVP by a specific date.
  • Telephone parents who do not respond and encourage them to attend.
  • Send home reminders one week before the conferences.
  • Contact parents who do not show up and try to reschedule.

Make it possible for all parents to get the maximum benefit from the conferences.

  • Let parents know what special services will be available, and ask them to notify you if they'll require services such as childcare, transportation, a translator, or a specific conference time.
  • Provide parents with information about your curriculum and classroom procedures before the conference date. Include a syllabus or an outline of general areas of study, a list of broad academic goals for the year, and a copy of your classroom rules and procedures. Invite them to ask questions about those materials at the conference.
  • Provide parents with suggestions on how to help make the conference productive and ask them to complete a conference planning sheet and bring it to the conference.
    Conference Planning Worksheet Part 1
    Conference Planning Worksheet Part 2

Plan ahead for a pleasant and productive conference.

  • Create a comfortable and private physical environment. Include adult-sized seating, paper and pens so parents can take notes, and an area large enough to spread the student's work out so parents can examine it.
  • Prepare a folder with samples of the student's work and a list of the student's current grades.
  • If you plan to ask parents to work with their child on a particular skill or subject area, have appropriate materials available for them to take home.
  • Know exactly what you will say and what questions you will ask. Be prepared to cite specific examples when expressing concern about the student's work or behavior. Try to anticipate parental reaction and be prepared to respond calmly and appropriately.
  • Fill out your part of the conference record.

THE CONFERENCE ITSELF

Getting parents to attend the conference is only half the battle, however. Once they've arrived, you have to make it clear that their involvement is vital to their child's success. Experienced teachers offer the following quick tips to help get your conferences off on the right foot -- and keep them there:

  • Dress professionally.
  • Start every conference on time.
  • Make it clear to parents that you like their child.
  • Remain calm and positive.
  • Listen carefully and reflectively.
  • Emphasize a spirit of collaboration and cooperation.

Following the "script" below will help you make each conference a productive experience as well as a pleasant one.

  • Welcome parents at the door and thank them for coming.
  • Establish rapport by sharing an anecdote about the student or by inquiring about an activity the student takes part in outside school.
  • Mention the student's strengths first.
  • Briefly discuss the student's progress in each subject area and show examples of the student's work.
  • Briefly discuss the student's behavior, work habits, and social skills.
  • Devote half the conference to the parents' concerns. Invite parents to share their thoughts and suggestions about the student and encourage them to ask additional questions about their child's progress.
  • Set two or three immediate goals for the student and work with the parents to create a plan for meeting those goals. Provide any materials parents might need to implement the plan.
  • Arrange for a follow-up phone call or meeting and let parents know how they can reach you if problems arise.
  • Complete the conference report and ask parents to sign it. As soon as possible, make a copy of the report and mail it to the parents.
  • Review the highlights of the conference and end on a positive note.
  • Walk the parents to the door and thank them for coming.
  • Take a few minutes to make personal notes about the conference. If you agreed to follow up on a particular issue, note it on your calendar.


Involving Urban Parents

"Teachers in urban areas face special challenges when it comes to parent-teacher conferences," said Jeanne Belovitch, then president of a Boston, Massachusetts, organization devoted to increasing the involvement of urban parents in their children's education. "In the majority of cases, they will be talking to single parents who lead very complex lives. Those teachers need to understand that just because parents can't spend much time at school, it doesn't mean they aren't interested in their children's education."

Urban parents, Belovitch told Education World, want to know that teachers respect them as educational partners, and they want teachers to provide

  • detailed information about their children's progress, in a language they can understand.
  • advice on dealing with homework and avoiding confrontations over it.
  • information about what they can do at home to reinforce what teachers are doing at school.
  • ideas for additional learning activities.
  • learning materials they can use with their children.
  • advice on handling discipline problems.
  • information about after-school programs

"Urban parents," Belovitch added, "want to be part of the educational process, but they are often intimidated by it." She suggests that urban educators

  • use ordinary language. Professional jargon intimidates urban parents and keeps them from asking questions.
  • let parents know that teachers understand their situation. If parents are comfortable, they'll take in more information.
  • hold conferences in the evening in conjunction with a social event, such as a potluck supper, so parents can meet other parents, share information and ideas, and find support.
  • establish and maintain communication.

"If a teacher is in continuous communication with a parent and builds rapport through the student, the parent will be more motivated to attend a conference," Belovitch said. "A lot of urban parents have written schools off because of their own student experiences. Teachers can help a great deal by replacing those negative experiences with positive ones."


 

Linda Starr
Copyright © 2002 Education World

10/21/2002
Updated 9/28/2005

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