By Maureen Powers
The first parent-teacher conference of the year is a critical time for engaging your students’ parents. Not only do you set the tone for educational expectations and progress, you can ask the parents for their help at home and encourage parent engagement.
When planning the parent-teacher conference, first address the attendance and preparation needs. Then think of creative approaches to the meeting to make it more effective and memorable.
1. Deliver a warm invitation to all of your students’ parents and/or guardians by email and paper to set a welcoming tone.
2. Schedule a “hook” activity prior to the conference that will encourage parents to attend, be engaged, and even look forward to the event.
One activity is to ask parents to write down the top three things they want the teacher to know about their child. Parents are eager to talk about their children and this activity shows them that you care.
Another activity is to have parents write down goals they have for their children before the meeting. Instruct the parents to include both academic and behavioral goals, since you can help with both. It will also give you insight into any behavioral issues you might see in the classroom.
3. Allow for early and late appointments to accommodate busy parents. Flexible meeting times allow parents to attend when they can best focus on your conversation, not when they’re rushed and distracted.
Prepare for the Meeting
4. Select three ideas or topics that you really want to share with the parents. Provide a variety—perhaps two topics are strengths you’ve seen with the student and one topic is an opportunity for improvement.
5. Retrieve samples of the student’s work that demonstrate his or her progress and struggles.
6. Provide a basket of toys for young children, in case parents need to bring them along. This way, the young ones are occupied and the parents can concentrate on the meeting.
Deliver a Unique Approach
Now that you have prepared for the meeting, you can focus on a creative format that will keep the parents engaged and help them retain the information discussed.
7. Student-led Parent-Teacher Conferences
In this scenario, ask your students to select their work for a portfolio to show to their parents. The students can use self-evaluation skills to assess their progress toward the set academic standards.
The parents will learn what their children are most proud of and you will start off on a positive note.
8. Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT)
This approach is unique, as it mimics a class for parents. There is strong evidence that this concept improves academic achievement very quickly.
Parents meet together three times a year for a mini-class where the teacher instructs them on one to two key strategies and power concepts that they can use to help their children at home (like an instructional technique for reading comprehension, or decoding, or fractions, etc.).
At these meetings, parents not only set goals for their children but also become a support group for each other. They become part of the teaching process, which helps them feel more useful and invested in their children’s education.
According to a study at Creighton School District, this approach can increase the parents’ social circles, father involvement, higher attendance, and parent empowerment. Learn more about the approach, also known as APTT, here.
As we teach in the YOU Program training workshops, parent engagement is critical to student success. By showing parents how to be more engaged and inspiring an interest in their children’s education through these parent-teacher conferences, you not only make your job easier, you help your students become stronger performers.