Next week, I have my first round of parent-teacher conferences. I thought I would share some of what I do to prepare for conferences and how I mange to stay on time with a very tight schedule.
We have very good parent attendance for conferences in my school. This is great, however it means we have to schedule each parent for ten minutes or we would be there for days. Ten minutes is not a lot of time. My district offers two days for conferences. One day are afternoon appointments, the other is for evening appointments. To say that most of my parents request evening appointments would be an understatement. In fact, this year I have ten minute conferences scheduled back-to-back from 5:50 PM to 8:50 PM with one ten minute break.
Needless to say, it can be tough to stay on time as the night goes on. Over the years, I have found a way to manage it. It is very rare that I run late. I am usually able to keep my conferences moving acording to schedule while havng quality, informative conversations in a short amount of time. Here are some of the reasons I think it has worked out for me:
I make a point at back to school night to let parents know I am always accessible and happy to talk to them at any time, not just at conferences. I give out a magnet that has my name, the school phone number, and my email address that they can stick on the fridge. I find that if parents feel the door is always open, that they can always talk to me if they have a question, they are less panicked about getting it all in at conferences. Most of my parents will email me if they have a question, and I make it a point to get back to them within a day.
I'm fully prepared for the conference. Each of my friends has a portfolio. In it are examples of work, their most recent report card, and any papers or assessments that I want to address with a parent. I also take the time to sit after school a couple of days before and fill out a sheet wtih the positives and negatives I need to address. I make sure I have some student work in their portfolio that backs up any academic issues I am going to bring up. It's hard for a parent to make an excuse for my friend when the proof is right in front of them.
Finally, I start all my conferences the same way. I greet the parents at my door, welcome them in, and we sit. I take out my friend's folder and pull out their most recent report card. In my district, report cards always go home the week before conferences. I pull out my copy of the report card and place it in front of the parents. I then say, "I know you've had a chance to look over Susie's report card. (Insert sentence here about something positive on report card.) She's done really well in science this marking period." Then, here comes the magic sentence. . . "Before we begin, are there any questions or concerns you have that you would like to talk about?"
I find that by asking this question at the beginning of the conference, I have done a few things. How many times have you gone through a conference only to have a parent drop some big issue on you just as you thought things were wrapping up? Or, have you had a parent wait you out? They have an issue, but they want to see if you bring it up first. This eliminates all that. It also lets the parent see that I am truly interested to know if they have any concerns and am willing to put them first.
I find that most of the time the issue the parent wants to talk about is usually the very issue I need to discuss with them. This allows me to get right to the heart of the conference. Plus, I now know that parent is well aware of this concern, and I'm not in new territory. There have been a couple of times where I've been completely surprised by what the parent brings up, but it's usually something I can easily answer.
For the parents that don't have anything they want to talk about, I can get right into what I need to say. Either way, we save a lot of time. There's no hemming and hawing around any issues. They are on the table from the start.
Beginning my conferences with this question has been a huge time saver over the years. I also always end my conferences with the same phrase and a big smile, "You know our door is always open. We don't have to wait until the next round of conferences to talk. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or concerns." Despite what you might think, I don't get inundated with emails and calls. I think they just like knowing that I'm open to anything they may have to say.
Then, I go home and collapse from talking to so many parents so late after teaching all day!