Why Parent Teacher Conferences Matter
This week, our school plans to open the doors for our fall parent teacher conferences. Running from 3:30 in the afternoon until 8:00 in the evening on Tuesday and Thursday, these are chances for the stakeholders in a child’s education to come together for a conversation. In an era of online grade books and electronic communication, some wonder if Parent Teacher conferences have become outdated, and a relic of a time of paper grade books. I could not disagree more, conferences are some of the most important evenings of our academic year. While it is our professional obligation to frequently communicate with all of our families, parent teacher conferences are unique and important for a variety of reasons, including:
The best method of communication is always in person.
So much is lost when talking on the telephone or reading an e-mail. The genuine in person exchange and small nuances of facial expression and tone tell us a lot. There is much to be gained by talking in person, a big reason why conferences remain important in the age of digital gradebooks and electronic communication.
If you want to improve your school community, bring parents through the front doors.
Want to break down perceptions of what the public “thinks” happens in school? Allow parents in to see for themselves the work that we are doing each day. Be open about curriculum, instructional strategies, how you construct and use assessments, show some of the data that helps to make decisions. Conferences are a way to show the professionals we are.
Parents want to help, but many did not go to school to be teachers.
As educators, we have spent countless hours learning about learning, and thinking about thinking. Each parent sends us the best children they have at home each day, and each parent wants their child to succeed. Our job is not to tell parents how to raise their children, but it is our responsibility to offer suggestions as to what kids can do outside of school to make them stronger students. Want to raise reading scores? Share some titles, literary terms, and simple questions parents can ask when their children read at home.
There is a big difference between being a “partner” and being “informed.”
If we want to work with parents, and want their help in making their child successful, we must push beyond simply informing them of what we are doing. We must take the extra step of developing a working relationship with our families, something that in person communication can really help. Without conferences, teachers can become just a name on a class newsletter, or a voice on the other end of the telephone, which makes them “informed.” Developing a relationship where there is a conversation and two way communication is vital to moving from “involvement” to “partnership.”
Parents don’t like to hear “nothing” from their child when they ask “what did you do at school today?” They know there’s more to the story.
Share resources, strategies, topics that are being covered, and ideas of things that are going on in the world that are relevant to your class. This information will help parents push beyond the answer of “nothing” when they ask the familiar question “what did you do in school today?” Conferences should be a time where we tell parents the strengths we see in their children and how they can grow. Have a talented artist in your class? A referral to a local art gallery may be in order. Have someone who excels in math? Maybe it’s time to share some engineering websites or resources.
What if they don’t come?
Each year, it seems that several teachers report that conferences went well, but many of the parents they wanted to speak with did not attend. Give them a call, ask them to meet with you, or, settle for a phone conversation. If you think speaking with a parent will help a child, MAKE IT HAPPEN, regardless of whether or not they are in attendance at conferences.
As someone who is actively seeking ways to communicate more effectively using the web, online newsletters, e-mail, and other forums, I see a lot of value in this form of parent outreach. However, in person communication will always surpass something electronic, even Skype. This week, our doors will be open and all of our community has been invited to come. Our staff will be ready to offer suggestions, observations, and to answer questions. To our parents, we hope to see you!
Our state department of education has put together an outstanding fact sheet that I shared via my weekly parent newsletter last Friday. If you’d like a copy, click here.