October 11, 2012

How to Survive Parent Conferences

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After I mentioned my marathon day of conferences last week, one of my awesome readers asked to hear more about how I manage parent conferences.  Here's how I make it through what amounts to a looooong day:

First, after scheduling my conferences, I send home a confirmation slip two weeks before our conference and another reminder the day before.  While parent involvement isn't as big of an issue at my current school as at my previous school, I still want parents to have plenty of reminders just in case!  Also, in the week leading up to conferences, I try to take some time to reflect on each of my students' strengths and goals, both academically and behaviorally.  Even though we obviously know these things about our students, I find that in the whirlwind day of conferences, important things slip my mind if I don't have them written down.  So, I type up brief notes of a quick strength or goal for each child that I'd like to share and have the notes at hand on conference day.  I don't look at them during a conference typically, but will glance at them during the odd open time slot to refresh my memory.  Sometimes just the act of typing the notes up is enough to get everything to the forefront of my brain!
My notes for conferences

During the week of conferences, I start putting together my student folders that I'll share with parents.  One of the things I share in these folders is my students' MAP scores and goals.  The week leading up to conferences, I briefly sit down with each of my students and conference with them about their MAP scores and things they would like to improve on in reading and math.  I record their goals on a goal setting sheet and we graph their current scores on a bar graph.
MAP Goal Setting Worksheet
I also have students fill out a self-reflection about their work habits, social learning, and listening skills.  I record my own thoughts as well and place this sheet in the front of the kiddos' folders to share first thing.

With the reflection, I ask the kids to choose something they're proud of and something they're working on to share with their parents at the beginning of their conference.  Our conferences are student-attended, which I LOVE.  I think it is SO important to have the kids involved in these important conversations.  Anyways, we talk briefly about behavior and work habits (homework completion, etc.), before diving into academics.

I next share MAP scores with parents, explaining the score, the percentile, and the growth goals.  I have students explain some of their strengths and goals from our goal setting sheet.  To give a little more information about reading levels, I also share the students' current instructional Fountas & Pinnell level.  One of my teammates had the brilliantly simple suggestion of sharing a Fountas & Pinnell grade level range breakdown with parents to give them a context for all of this information.  I circled the student's current level, starred the end of the year grade level goal, and gave the sheet to parents to take home.  I will include an instructional level on report cards, so this way parents will be able to keep track.
Reading Instructional Levels Guide

Next, I share some kind of math artifact, usually our most recent test or quiz and a current math grade.  I also share any reading common assessments or other reading and math artifacts.  Finally, my favorite thing to share is a writing sample from the very beginning of the school year as well as a published writing piece so parents can see their child's writing growth already this year.  It's always amazing to see the huge difference several weeks can make!

To recap, here's a list of what's in their folders:
  • Self-reflection on work habits and behavior
  • MAP scores and goal setting sheet
  • Fountas & Pinnell instructional level and breakdown sheet
  • Math artifact and current grade
  • Other common assessments
  • Writing sample from beginning of the year
  • Published writing piece (or writing journal if I don't have one yet)
On the day of conferences, I set myself up at my conference table with a few items.  I organize my student folders in order of their conference time in my file crate and keep it on a chair next to me.  On the floor underneath I keep a little box of essentials including kleenex, chapstick, mints, shine control powder (it's a looong day, people), lipgloss, and most importantly a full water bottle.  I don't know about you guys, but I get seriously dehydrated after talking ALL DAY LONG at conferences!!!
I  have never had a time that I really needed to get out of an uncomfortable conference, but my first year my mentor suggested to me that just in case I post a list of conference times outside the door and ask parents to knock lightly at their scheduled time if I am currently inside with the door closed.  I typically find that I usually only need 10 minutes for "easy" students, and that the 15 minutes I schedule is more than enough time.  If I know I'm going to have a conference that requires a little more time, I try to leave an empty slot in my schedule before the next conference, because some conversations really need some extra time!

Honestly, even though the day is hella long, I don't really mind it.  I love sharing students' amazing growth with parents, and with the students too!  It's always pretty wonderful.  And as far as trickier conferences go, I find that having the students there is super important.  I can honestly say I have seen differences in some of my trickiest students after having discussions with the kids and their parents together at conferences.  

What tips do you have for surviving parent conferences?


  1. Pinned! Great ideas. Unfortunately, for me - in the special ed world, I don't see a lot of parents at conferences. I do see them at IEP meetings and other meetings throughout the year. But when it comes to conference time, they really don't come. Sad.

  2. I always toss in some cough drops to my little box of necessities because my throat always gets dry and a little sore!

  3. I knew this would be wonderful and you DID NOT disappoint! Thank you a thousand times for sharing this. I've taught a million years but still never quite feel prepared. I love your ideas for having students give input on their reflection sheet. This will help me feel much calmer about conferences. Like you mentioned, they always end up being a neat experience but I usually stress so much going into that week. Yet now I feel my stress diminished greatly. You're the best!

  4. I love your blog! I am so fortunate to be your newest follower :) If you have time, come check out my blog and let me know what you think!



  5. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    Conference Folders


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