Monday, October 24, 2016


It's time for conferences 🎉 and if you are a new teacher, or a teacher needing a fresh perspective on how to run your Parent-Teacher Conferences... then this post is for you!!

First off, I want to preface this post with an explanation of how my team works because it will make more sense as to why I structure my conferences the way I do. At my school 5th Grade rotates in order to help students prepare for middle school. I teach math to my "homeroom" students, and then I teach reading to all three 5th Grade classes. My "homeroom" bunch of kids get to go to the other two 5th grade teachers every day for their writing instruction and for science/social studies. Because of this rotation, we structure our conferences in an "Open House" forum that is student led. This allows all 80+ students and their parents to conference with all three teachers and get feedback. 

Even though my conferences are structured in a very specific way, here are some universal tips for any teacher on how you can rock your Parent - Teacher Conferences!

Tip #1: Let your students take ownership.
Giving your students the chance to be involved in running their own conference is huge! This increases accountability and forces students to be more cognizant of their progress throughout the quarter. There are a few different ways you can get students involved including portfolios, weekly reflections, or asking them questions during the conference to get the conversation flowing. 
Having students create their own portfolio has worked well for me. Throughout the semester, my students have been preparing for conferences. At the beginning of the year I gave each student a blank manila file folder and told them they could decorate it any way they wanted to make a portfolio for conferences. I told my students that they needed to collect at least two graded artifacts from each subject over the course of the quarter to put in their portfolio. On the inside, they created a checklist to help them keep track of what was going in. Throughout the quarter I've created time and space to check-in with students and see how the artifact collecting process has been going. Many students put assignments that had high scores on it into their portfolio. Others chose to place an assignment from the beginning of the year that they got a lower score on, and then an assignment that they had done better on, explaining to me that they were proud to show off how much they had already grown! It was such a neat growth mindset moment for me to witness as several students came up to me and explained their collection process. I also knew that these students were proud to be taking ownership of their own conference. As I passed back graded assignments, they were looking for pieces that they wanted to display and talk to their families about. Having this level of excitement and thoughtfulness from students prior to conferences is HUGE!

One of my students let me share a picture of the inside and outside of her portfolio.

Tip #2: Prepare your students for what to expect. 
Students can get just as nervous (and probably even more nervous) than teachers for conferences! In my experience, talking students through what that experience should look like helps them know what to expect and prepare for, and also gives you a chance to enforce expectations. For example I went over the procedures for the night with my class and  explained how students should enter the classroom with their parents, go over to their desk, present their portfolio, etc. Then I've given them the chance to actually practice what this looks like and feels like with a partner in class. That way there are no surprises the night of. I've also explained to students that when they are done presenting their portfolios it will be my time to talk with them and their parents. I have told them that when I talk with them at conferences I will brag on the things that they are already doing well and let them and their parents know how I plan to challenge them, and how I'm looking for them to challenge themselves in areas of growth both academically and behaviorally. This step will help the logistics of the night run smoothly, but also let students know ahead of time that we have some important things to talk about. 

Tip #3: Think through what you want/need to say.
There are always nervous jitters in the air on conference night and sometimes you don't know just quite what to expect. Thinking through what you want and NEED to say to students and parents prior to conferences is important because it will help you stay on track. After students have finished presenting their portfolio and talking with their parents, I will usually start off the conversation by turning to the student and asking them, "How do you think 5th grade is going?" Usually I'll get back a short "good" and I'll probe a little to get that child talking about what's so good about 5th grade and what they're enjoying so far. I will usually echo some of their comments, "I'm glad to hear you say you like 5th grade and what we've been doing in Reading..." This opens the door for me to say what I need to say. I focus on sharing some strengths that I've noticed and then I offer up some areas that need improvement. Depending on the student and the areas of improvement needed I usually will start off my sentence with something like, "I think you're ready for a challenge. Here are some areas where I'd like to see us partner together to make sure the rest of your year is successful." Within these sentence frames I include personal comments and even some anecdotes that support my ideas for areas to improve and strengths I've seen. Thinking through the strengths and challenges that I want to share with parents and students ahead of time allows me to say what I need to say when they come in through my door. I always end my interaction with asking the parents if they have any questions for me. Thinking through what you want and need to say ahead of time will help things flow well throughout your conferences. 

Tip #4: Stage your classroom.
When it comes to preparing my classroom for conferences I have students tidy up their desks and wipe up the room with cleaning wipes to make sure every thing looks fresh. I like to stage my classroom by displaying neat projects that we've done this quarter on bulletin boards and creating little vignette's throughout the room. For example, on the table where I do small groups, I have little discussions questions to get parents asking their child about specific things that we've been doing so far. I also create a little welcome area (similar to what I do for Back to School night) with my business card and a little treat for parents. This year I am going to put up my supply wishlist. I also like to have some instrumental music softly playing in the background to help the room seem more warm and inviting. The background music also helps to create 'privacy' for discussion when more than one set of parents are in the room at a time. The last thing I do to stage my classroom is spray some sort of air freshener or warm some Scentsy to make the room smell clean and fresh. 

I structure the weeks before conferences very intentionally to make sure I have some awesome work to display out in the hallway and inside my room.

Tip #5: Dress to Impress
Any time I know I'm going to be interfacing with parents I want to dress professionally. Especially since I'm a younger teacher I think it's important that I convey a professional look. Also make sure your professional attire is something you feel CONFIDENT in!! Even if your outfit is perfectly professional and cute, if you don't feel comfortable or confident in it, then it won't help you give off the vibes you're wanting to. Wear something that helps you exude confidence, that will help you to start off with the right tone. For more tips on how to class things up for conferences click here.

One of my favorite looks from my "Class it Up" blog post that I totally plan on repeating for conferences.

Tip #6: Reflect!
After conferences are over you may be tempted to go into hibernation. Understandable. But before you go off the grid, take time to reflect over your conference experiences. What did you do well? What would you change up in the future. Taking a few moments to intentionally reflect (and jotting some notes down) will help you to be even more successful next go around!

Let me know what tips help(ed) you rock your conferences...or if you have specific questions, comment below! Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!!

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