Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parent Conferences - are you ready?

 Hi there!  It's Lisa from over at Second Grade Stories.  Wow - just when I thought I had a handle on all the craziness from September, the end of October shows up.  From goal setting, to budget ordering, to Halloween to bats and pumpkins and spiders, it seems like another crazy time of year is upon me!  This week we have two early dismissal days for parent conferences.

I have to tell you - I actually look forward to parent conferences.  Yep, I do.

I enjoy meeting with parents and really getting to sit down and talk about student progress and all the great things going on in our classroom.  Open House goes by so fast that I never seem to have time for more than a quick "hello" and "take a look around."  Parent conferences, even though they are short this first time (just 15 minutes each, yikes!) really give me a chance to get to know all my kiddos' families.

We work on a trimester schedule, and have conferences at the end of October, and then again in March.  I like that fact that these first conferences are early enough to be able to deal with issues if they arise and to really share the positives about how everyone is doing.

After more years of conferences than I'd like to admit, I've developed some tips to help make parent conferences go smoothly - whether you're a beginning teacher scared out of your mind at meeting all these parents (that was me!), or an experienced veteran who has seen it all before. 

Let the parents start the talking.
This is my most important tip.  Especially if your conferences are short, it's important to give parents the chance to ask any questions or bring up any concerns they have at the beginning so you can address them, rather than waiting until the end and having them leave feeling like they didn't get what they needed.  I usually start by saying, "Is there anything you'd like to ask about first before we start?"  Most of the time parents reply by saying they just want to know how their child is doing.  That opens the door for you to share what you planned on saying.  But if they have a specific question or concern about something, they'll be thinking about it through the whole conference, waiting for the time to ask.  Better to see how everyone is feeling first, then move through the meeting.
Be prepared and organized.
I know this goes without saying, but it's hard to summarize every bit of student progress in 15 minutes.  I use a quick reference sheet for each student that shows benchmark scores, math tests, spelling tests, strengths and needs in each area.  I just write a few quick notes so I don't forget to touch on anything - and I send this sheet home with families.  I also have a sheet with sticky notes for me so I can touch on the top 2 or 3 things I want to make sure I share.  I keep a file folder of student work samples, tests, etc. next to me on the floor so I can reach in and pull out what I need.  Do not try to share and talk about everything - you'll get through the first few items and then realize you only have 5 minutes left and haven't talked about the most important thing you want to share!

I also keep a supply of colored pens and sticky notes on the table where we meet.  This way parents (or myself!) can jot a quick note to help remember something.  In addition, I also keep another sticky note for each child where I jot down any major issues we talked about, things we said we would do, etc.  These work as a great reminder for me of what we talked about and helps me keep track of anything I need to follow up on after the conference.  I also make sure I sit where I can see the clock.  This lets me keep track of how much time we have left so I can make sure we have covered everything.
Make a good first impression.

I used to really obsess over having everything perfect in my room for conferences - every display exactly right, nothing looking worn out... then I finally realized that while parents may  take a quick glance around the room, their focus is in the space where you re sitting - and where they are waiting outside to come in.  No one is going to notice that the "D" fell off my word wall for the fifteenth time today.  Make the outside of your room - or wherever parents are waiting - look inviting.  Put out a display of student work, books you've enjoyed reading together in class, or even a sample of some work stations or centers you have been doing.  Not only does it give parents something to look at while they are waiting but they'll get an idea of hat goes on in your classroom each day.  I also like to put out extra copies of important notes and papers for the year - school calendar, info about my class website, directions to sign up for Remind101 or VolunteerSpot, most recent newsletter ... anything that might have been sent home in the past couple months that you want to make sure families received. (and yes, I know the papers in the picture are from Open House - I'll be putting those out to make sure n one missed anything, along with a few new ones.)

The table where we sit to meet has adult sized chairs, and plenty of sticky notes, scrap paper and pens/pencils.  I keep my candle warmer going off to the side of the room and I only keep what I need for that particular student on the table in front of me.  That eliminates clutter and distractions and keeps the focus on one child.
Do you feel ready for conferences?  Even though preparing for those two days is a lot of work, I always leave those nights feeling like I have learned a little bit more about each of my kiddos and knowing everyone is on board to work together for a successful year.

And since I KNOW how stressful conferences can be, I'm sharing all my conferences forms and notes with you.  There is a conference form for each child, a schedule (I post mine in the hall - with just initials and have one for me with names), reminder notes, sign in sheet, and follow up notes.  It's a Powerpoint file, so you can add text boxes to say whatever works for you.  Click the image below to download the file.
(If you need the file in pdf only, click HERE
Good luck with your conferences!
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