Parent/teacher conferences are vital to good communications between the home and school. The conferences give us a point of contact and an opportunity to meet and focus on the child, looking at the academic, emotional, social, and spiritual growth of the child.
Let’s walk through a conference:
My classroom has been cleaned up and looks orderly with student desks straightened and chairs pushed in. The table where we will chat has been raised to adult level and I’ve brought in folding chairs so parents don’t have to scrunch down on child-size chairs. I’ve prepared by gathering the child’s books and work samples. I have the report card open on my computer, and my conference notes are right here. I have some sort of decoration on the table – a candle and some fall leaves this time. I’ve prayed for wisdom and clear communication. Now I greet the parents with a smile and invite them in. “Let’s start with a word of prayer, then we’ll talk about how Kenny is doing.” I pray, thanking God for Kenny and his family, and asking for blessing on our conference as we work together, and for blessing on Kenny’s parents as they raise their children.
My first question is, “So, what does Kenny have to say about school?” I enjoy these answers that give me an insight into Kenny. Next, we go over the report card and I ask if there are any questions about it. I explain a bit of how the first grade report card works. I show Kenny’s books and work samples to his parents and tell them what we’re learning and how Kenny is doing. I go over the academic, social, and spiritual aspects of Kenny’s school life. I share positive comments as well as areas that Kenny may need to work on.
I may ask what the parents see at home. I am glad when the parents bring up issues that I have noticed, like the parent who asked, “Is she really bossy at school?” Well, yes, she is, and I was trying to think of a nice way to address that!
I ask for their questions. I listen, and take notes so I remember what we’ve planned, or what I will find out or take care of. (I must keep watching the clock because if I go over time it will affect many other conferences.) I end with a positive remark, often telling the parents that I enjoy having Kenny in class. I thank the parents for coming in and for their support.
I quickly move Kenny’s things aside and gather Diana’s books, check over my notes for her, and welcome Diana’s parents.
One metaphor for giving input to parents is called the “sandwich” approach – start with something positive, then something to work on, and have your last sandwich layer be something positive again. Teachers can share with parents events from the classroom that the parents have missed. They can give perspective into how the child learns. I have been asked many kinds of questions and there are many areas I can give insight to the parents, from questions such as “What are my child’s strengths?” to areas for encouraging growth, to what the child should know at this age. I’ve been asked to affirm the child’s gifts and abilities and have often brought that up myself. I’ve been asked questions about teeth and speech and growth patterns and behavior patterns, like “Is this a stage he’s going through?” One year I helped parents work with their child who was worrying all the time and was too conscientious. He was an oldest child and the mother was very grateful for my insight as they had never dealt with anything like that before.
I also get good input from the parents about health issues for the child, medication she may be taking, that this child does better seated at the front of the room, or that this child is fearful of thunderstorms. All of these things help me understand the child better and work with him more successfully. If I find out a child is bored, I determine to challenge him and plan lessons or activities to catch his attention. I was told that words are very affirming to one of my students and she is much more secure this year because she is getting more affirmation. I do try to affirm my students, but now that I am aware of the importance of that for this child, I will be especially careful to affirm her. We discussed spelling for another child and made a plan for helping her to be successful instead of missing nearly every spelling word.
Many days, the teacher is with the student more waking hours than the parents are and can share with the parents about the child, how he is doing, what she is up to, how he learns, what are her strengths and weaknesses, how we can help him, or what parents can do at home to help. Many teachers have years of experience behind them, which helps in assisting parents. Conferences are not only hard work; they are affirming to the teacher. I find out the viewpoints of the parents, clear up misunderstandings (first graders do not always report things correctly!), find out how the child feels about school, and can encourage and affirm the parents. Many parents give positive words to me and encourage me in my teaching.
Parent-teacher conferences are important for the academic success and development of the child. Teachers and parents will have different perspectives on the student as they view them in different environments, so they need to communicate and work together to help the child in the best way. Conferences are important for home-to-school communication and family involvement in the school.
The school and parents must be partners, and planned conferences help make that possible.
Courtesy of Ephrata Mennonite School, this is a link to a form used at Parent-Teacher Conferences. The form has prompts for teacher feedback to parents and parent/student feedback for teachers, as well as reminders of general protocol for the conference.
CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt