Talking with parents can be stressful, especially when there are concerns you want to address. Conferences are a wonderful time to build relationships with parents and keep them up to date on the progress their child has made, as well as goals you have for them. In order to have the most successful conference, you must be prepared.
Planning What To Say at the Conference
When I am planning what to share at the conferences, start with the student’s strengths. It can be difficult to think of the strengths, as opposed to just thinking about all the things you want to work on with the student. But, I am challenging you to always start with the positives. Remember that the parents want to know what their child is doing well, and they want to know that you see the positives as well. They want to know that you love and appreciate their child.
When it comes to the challenges the student is working on, I always choose one to three goals per child for what I want to work on with the child in school and maybe one or two of the same goals for the parents to work on with the child at home. Parents want to know that you have goals for their child – even if everything really is positive, you can’t just ignore them! What will you be working on with them during the year? Parents also don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many things for their child to work on. Pick just one to three main goals.
I love to use my conference sheets to prepare what I am going to say. I love the checklists for ideas on strengths and goals and what parents can do at home with their child. Then I fill in the rest with child specific “Glows” (what they are doing well) and “grows” (what I want them to work on in school). Then I pick one to three of the goals listed for my main take-away goals.
Preparing for the Conference
First, you need to have parents sign up for conferences. I prefer to use sign-up genius, because it’s easier to copy over year to year, but google forms also works well. I just ask for parent name and child’s name. I also ask parents to send me an email if they need to change their sign-up, as opposed to changing it online.
Second, you want to inform any teachers that also work with your students about the time of the conferences. For example, if my student works with an English Language Learning teacher, I want to invite that teacher to the conference as well. Other teachers might be school counselors, special education teachers, speech pathologist, and occupational therapist. I don’t expect them all to come, but I want them to know that they are invited to join.
Next, I post my sign-up outside so that teachers and other staff will know when I am in a conference and when I am free. It also helps if parents are waiting, they can see that I am still in a conference for five more minutes. I also post a sign that asks parents to knock when it is their conference time, this helps me to keep on schedule with the conferences.
Finally, I gather up the work samples that I want to share parents (or at least have ready to share in case there is time). I always share the assessment graphs that I have for each child – letter ID, number ID, and if the child is ready for it sight word ID. I always gather up their writing folders or any published writing to show the progress their child has made in writing. It’s good to have different leveled texts nearby in case you want to show parents what kind of books their child should be reading.
I also make sure to always have a handout or two to give each family, depending on the goals I have for their child. For example, I might have an alphabet chart to give to most families, but some students who know all their letters and sounds might get a handout on reading comprehension instead.
Agenda for Fall Conference
For all conferences, I always start the conferences hearing what concerns or questions the parents have. I also ask them how they think school is going for their child. I want to hear from them, and depending on the questions they have, I will tailor my information to ensure that I answer their questions and address their concerns. Also, I end my conference asking parents for their goal for their child for the next few months and write that down next to my goals. I want everyone to feel like we are partners working together to support their child. And, I want to see if they have a different goal than I have, so that I know how best to support them and their child.
In the fall, for kindergarten, my main goal is to reassure parents on how their child is transitioning to school. I don’t focus too much on academics, just a few positives and if there is a glaring academic concern, I make sure to have a plan for what I will do in school (intervention, extra small groups, etc) and some work for parents to do at home with the child. I do have some work samples to show parents as I am talking about academics or if I have some extra time.
At the end, I make sure to go over the next steps for parent-teacher communication. For example, I will say, “You will get the report card in January. Our next conference is in April, but of course, if you or I have concerns before that, we can always meet sooner”. If I have particular concerns about a child, I might list my plan for the student and then ask to meet again in six to eight weeks to revisit how the plan is working.
Agenda for Spring Conference
The spring conference starts the same way as the fall conference – I ask the parents how they are feeling, what concerns they have, and how they think the year is going. I also review the fall goals we made for their student and check in with those first. Next, I go over the social emotional progress and needs of their child. After that, we go over academics. Again, I want to start with the positives, the “glows”, for literacy and math. Then, we talk about goals I have for them. I try and pick one main goal for writing, reading, and math. I still talk with parents about how I will support students on these goals for the rest of the year and offer any games/activities for them to try at home.
At the end of the conference, I want all parents to understand the end of the year events (like report cards) and the transition to first grade. I want to inform them of the process for going to first grade (like when they find out their next year teacher) and how we will support their child (like offering a visit day to a first-grade classroom).
Tips and Tricks for Talking with Parents
Use the Positive Sandwich.
Start with the positive, share the goals for the child, and end the conference reminding parents of the positives. Parents want to know that you love and appreciate their child.
When you have big concerns, the conference should not be the first time they are hearing of it. Just because you have a conference time in October or whenever, does not mean you should wait to share big concerns with families. Schedule a time to meet with them or talk on the phone about your concerns as they come up. Always have a plan ready to try – don’t just come to them complaining about their child. Show them that you have ideas for things to try. It’s also important to ask parents what they think. I like to ask, have you seen this at home? What works well for you?
For small concerns or goals, make sure to reassure parents that the concern is nothing to worry about. You can say, “I want to work with ___ on his/her pencil grip this year. It is completely developmentally appropriate to struggle with holding a pencil the right way, but later on it could make it harder for them to write for a long period of time. I will be giving him/her a grip to use in school. Here’s a grip you can take home and practice with them.”
Especially when it comes to things like listening on the rug, I want to warn parents that they won’t be seeing perfect scores on the first report card by saying something like, “occasionally he/she struggles with showing me they are listening on the rug, we call this whole body listening. At this point in kindergarten, it is completely expected to need a few reminders with this. We will work on this at school and I am sure that by the end of the year they won’t need so many reminders!”
More Concern Tips
When you are mentioning a concern, always have a specific example ready to share. You want to either explain an example of when this happened at school or show a work sample to demonstrate the concern you are sharing. You shouldn’t just say, “I am concerned with his/her ability to make friends. Ok moving on….” You need specific examples, like maybe, “last week, I observed them at the sand table grabbing sand toys from their friends” then explain how you supported the child and will support the child by saying, “so I went over, and helped them to use their words and ask for a turn with the toys. I will continue to support them to use their words with their friends. If you want to help, having playdates is a great way to practice this skill at home.”
I keep a binder of all my handouts so that I can just grab them each conference as needed. I have a bunch of handouts for different skills that I use every year. But I also have some ready in case a parent brings up a concern at the conference. I also have a few bags ready to take home for families that I am suggesting they practice at home (this is only about 1-4 students that I think they need to work at home on literacy or math. These are the same students that are in Tier 2 interventions or maybe they are on the cusp of needing an intervention so simply giving work for them to practice at home may help).
Work with your Team!
If you know a conference will be difficult, or you know that some parents can be difficult in a conference, ask for someone to join you. Depending on the concern, maybe you want the school counselor or maybe a literacy specialist with you. If you are really concerned about your relationship with parents and how that will affect your conference, talk with your principal. They may want to join you to support you or give you suggestions for meeting with the families. Just remember – you are not alone! It is ok to ask for help!
Different teachers have different preferences about sharing notes from conferences. I like to give my conference notes to families after all the conferences are done, because I don’t want families comparing notes before I have even finished all the conferences.
The reason I give out conference notes is because sometimes both parents are not able to make the conference, and so this way both parents get the same information. It is also a good reference for families when report cards come out so they aren’t surprised by anything on the conferences.
That being said, some teachers do not like to send home conference notes. Some of my teammates send home the conference notes before the conference begins so they can spend their conference time discussing the notes together. It is completely a personal preference, and you have to decide what works best for you and your families.
Conferences are a wonderful time to work with parents and share with them the work their child has done during the year and what they will be working on for the rest of the year. It can be stressful or scary to talk to parents about concerns you have about their child, but if you come prepared then the conference should go well!