I find that a number of my teacher buddies have a lot of questions that surround parent teacher conferences. Less about how to present each students strengths and struggles, grades, test scores etc. and more about how to engage parents, empower them and help them feel like a welcomed part of their kiddo’s education.
How are you engaging parents initially about parent teacher conferences? Is there communication that goes home from the school? From you personally? What does your message convey to your parents? I think that a personal message, email or phone call can go a long way in putting a personal touch on each parent’s invitation to conferences. Obviously, depending on class size, this could become a really unrealistic task. I know teachers that use a group messaging app to send texts, something like Group Text! seems to work well. Printing off a letter and handing them to parents at dismissal, sending a mass email could also work. Maybe following up with a few of those parents who have not engaged you, or responded to communication? I think these types of things really let parents know, HEY! I want to know you, I want to be partners to help your kiddo grow.
Creating a welcoming environment. We’re all human, and we notice things. Does your classroom give of a WELCOME PARENTS vibe? Is each students work, art work, personality, displayed on the walls, boards, desks? I will admit one of my favorite things to do in a classroom is to look at what is displayed on the walls and the individualism shown at each student’s space. Each student is unique, their talents unique…let that show.
Balance. Work towards balancing the discussion to give equal talking time devoted to what a student is doing well, and where improvement can be made. Let’s tune in and be real for a moment. We all have students, where we struggle to find what is going well. They’re never in their seat. He never listens to instructions, She doesn’t complete assignments. He refuses to follow directions. These experiences we have with students, connect to yucky emotions with in us – frustration, annoyance, irritation (need I go on?) Perhaps these experiences with students cause us to behave in a certain way – sending letters home, calling the parent to inform them of bad behavior, requesting something of the parent perhaps if you come and sit with him in class, please make sure the worksheets are in his folder, It would be helpful if you could come meet with me during PTC… Most often parents know when they’re kiddo is struggling and where improvements could be made. So tell them something they don’t know. I love to throw parents off when I have a student like those described above, I begin a conversation with She is incredibly independent. Wow, he knows exactly what he wants and goes for it. Your student feels very comfortable expressing how he/she feels. These statements will go a long way in building a bond with your parents.
Check the judgements out in the parking lot. Judging our own thoughts, feelings and actions has become second nature… even more so, judging that of others. It’s a comfortable slide into judgement from the frustration felt when someone doesn’t do something you want, or respond in a way that you’d like. Try to stick to the facts. When you have a parent that is not responsive to your communications regarding PTC (or otherwise) change what you can, and accept what you can’t! (sounds simple, heh) What you can change: Are you able/willing to communicate a different way (i.e sending a text vs. emailing, meeting them after school vs. sending a text)? What you can’t change: Their ability/willingness to respond, their ability/willingness to engage in the way that you’d like. Judgements of your student’s parent’s behavior’s (so lazy, they don’t even care, so clueless, GRRRR!!!!) will just fuel negative feelings in you. So stick closely to the facts.
Take care of yourself that day. Well, take care of yourself every day. PTC involve a lot of stimulation and can be an emotional roller coaster. Plan some little self-care activities for the day before, day of and day after. Pack your favorite yogurt or snack (maybe double up?), bring the book you’re reading to school and take short breaks throughout the day. Treat yourself to something special when the day is over, a movie, an ice cream cone, a new pair of shoes (all three!!!!).
PTC’s is a great opportunity to showcase your student’s talent and their hard work, new teacher. It’s also an important part of creating a connection with their parents, engaging them, showing them what you’re about and how you operate. It’s a great opportunity to reach out to them – what message would you like to send?