Prepare with Evidence
It doesn't matter if you are meeting on the best student that has ever come through your class or a student that is struggling, all families would like to know specifics about their student in particular. I don't know about you, but even though I know a whole lot about each of my students it sometimes become difficult to think of specifics on the spot. Instead, I like to have a portfolio of student work, journals, assessments, and anecdotal notes ready to share with parents.
This works both ways. Sometimes I use this evidence to show parents how well their student is doing in an area that I know they are struggling with to prove how hard their students are working. Other times I can show parents that students are not putting forth all their effort. Either way, the goal of evidence is to help the family understand their student at school, the good the bad, and the ugly.
Use the Sandwich Method
The sandwich method is my favorite way to share information with just about anyone, and it couldn't be easier. The idea is to sandwich an area of growth within two areas that the student is doing well. It might sound a little something like this:
"Hannah is the kindest student I have come across. She works really hard to make sure that everyone feels included in class. Right now she and I are working on her organizational skills. She works really hard to get her work done, but sometimes struggles to find her materials, because of her untidyness. She is such a hard worker that I know she will find a system that works for her!"
Some might call this sugar coating, but it really is the BEST way to communicate with just about anyone, not just in parent conferences. The key to this method is to make sure that you hit on each of the points, and don't let the growth areas get lost.
Stay Goal Oriented
It is easy to get caught up the negatives when speaking about a student that is struggling whether it be socially, emotionally, behaviorally, or academically. The key is to remain goal oriented and strive to work together with parents to find a solution. This positivity will help parents to recognize that you are a team and in search of the absolute best for your student.
This can be especially tough when parents are struggling with not knowing what to do with their student and can sometimes feel like throwing things at a wall until something sticks, but that my friends is what I like to call brainstorming, and parents should be a part of it.
Learn From the Family
When I first started teaching I thought that I was supposed to be the authority and have an answer to everything, but oh how wrong I was. I have since learned that parents and families are our greatest allies, and know our students so much better than we do. I like to just come out and ask parents for their ideas, and more often than not they know just what to do.
Families are able to offer a great insight into what makes students tick and how to make them tick to a different rhythm.
Show That You Care
Again, parents are our greatest allies, and when the going gets tough it is hard to remember that we are all on the same side. It is easy to come off as a bit icy when it comes to dealing with a difficult student, but it is vital for students to know that you care and are working in their student's best interest.
This can be accomplished quite simply. The best way that I have found to show that you care is by listening, really truly listening, to what parents have to say. I like to start conferences by having asking parents their thoughts and concerns on the school year. I have gained so much insight from this practice.
End With a Thank You
Taking time to come in for a parent conference is hard. You have to arrange child care, take time from work, and remember that it is scheduled. As teachers we often forget that parents don't have a day scheduled off already to come and see us. I always tried to remind myself that parents were putting in the effort and I wanted them to know that I valued their time. In order to show them this I would write a thank you note to each family to send home the day after our meeting. In the note I would include a thank you, a recap of our goals, and end with another thank you. These notes were always very well received.
Want to Know More?
These are my favorite books to help out with conferences.