Parent Teacher conferences

So we had my son’s P/T conference last night and between that, the Leader in Me training I attended over the summer, and reading Repair Kit for Grading I began to think about all the P/T conferences I’ve led through the years and the different styles.

One on one  or parent(s)/guardians and teacher alone in a room – this style definitely has its pros and cons.  It’s nice to be able to talk with the parents and have their child’s desk right there to pull out workbooks and notebooks to reference as need be, though I’m not a fan of having the kids clean their desks just for conferences maybe that’s the parent in me talking as my child’s desk was spotless last night and knowing my child I know that’s not how it normally looks.  I want to see that.  I want parents to see what their child’s work area looks like on a day-to-day basis, I want them to know how often we work on keeping them clean.  Maybe an alternate strategy would be to snap a quick picture a few times and have a record.  Most of the time I find that students that are better organized tend to be get better grade, though there are exceptions.  With one on one in a classroom there is little chance of others overhearing your conference keeping it more private.  This however can backfire when you have a parent that becomes angry.  Also this style tends to lead to conferences running longer as parents don’t see anyone else waiting to come in and it can be hard to move them along sometimes. This is also a style that I think is often uncomfortable for new teachers who have never led conferences before.

Two or three on one or parent(s)/guardians and a few teachers in the room – When I began in my last district several of us were new to the school and this suggestion was made to make conferences a little easier.  It was nice to have backup of a veteran teacher in the district (I had taught only 3 yrs before that and the other teacher with us had only taught for one year) but there were times I almost felt like we were ganging up on parents.  It can be hard enough to tell a parent their child is not doing well, or as a parent to hear it.  It has to be tough on a parent to hear it from teacher after teacher in private conference but it seemed to me to be mean to have three teachers in the same room say the same thing over and over.  This conference also has potential to run long but with two or three teachers in a room you have a bit more backup when you say you need to move on and suggest scheduling another time to talk.

One on one in a large group setting – This may sound odd but for the last several years in my last position (small rural middle school) all of the middle school teachers had a table in the gym, there was enough separation that parents couldn’t hear what was happening at the next table but conferences moved faster, parents could see the line forming at the bleachers by the door.  We allowed double time for parents with more than one student and as specials teachers were in the gym with us I think they ended up seeing more parents than they did when it was one on one in the classrooms.  This also provided more backup if parents became angry or belligerent and often kept parents calmer.

Student-led conferences – This is by far my favorite conference style, though I’m not sure how well it would work with say kindergarten and first grade, I think second and third graders could do it and I know kids older than that can.  I was incredibly fortunate that my first year of teaching was in a school that chose to do student-led conferences.  Each students created a portfolio of work from every class.  They chose some examples of their work and after reviewing those chosen the teacher might add an example or two as well.  The student also completed a reflection sheet on their grades and effort for the quarter for each class.  I loved that this asked the student to take responsibility for their behavior.  A few of my students complained about having to come to conferences.  I asked them if their parents had ever come home from conferences and yelled at them or they’d gotten in trouble because of their grades, the answers came in yesses, lowered heads, sinking in chairs 🙂  I explained that this was a chance for them to say to their parents “I know I messed up, here’s how I’m going to fix it and here’s how you and/or the teacher can help me fix it.”  I overheard a mother and daughter talking when the daughter got to the question “How can my parents help me improve/maintain my grade?”  The daughter said her parents could check her homework, her mom replied that she thought Dad did, the daughter said “No Mom he doesn’t”, mom was a bit perplexed but answered, “OK well I can do that.”  When kids came back to school the following week several of them told me how much better it went, that they hadn’t gotten yelled at, that Mom and Dad weren’t happy but since the student had a plan Mom and Dad were calmer than usual.

No matter what the conference style has been every year since that first year I have had my students complete a reflection sheet and whenever possible I have the student lead the conference.

This is my original reflection sheet:

English Reflection Sheet

My _________ quarter grade is _______________.

I am very happy/ happy/ okay/ unhappy/ very unhappy with this grade.  Why?

Effort and Conduct: Circle most appropriate word to complete the sentence.

I usually/sometimes/rarely arrive to class promptly.

I am usually/sometimes/rarely prepared for class (pen or pencil, paper, book, planner.)

I usually/sometimes/rarely follow directions the first time given.

I usually/sometimes/rarely write down my complete assignments in my assignment book

I usually/sometimes/rarely complete my homework/classwork.

I usually/sometimes/rarely hand in my homework/classwork on time.

I usually/sometimes/rarely ask for help when I need it.

I usually/sometimes/rarely work quietly in class.

I usually/sometimes/rarely stay in my seat unless given permission to get up.

What do I need to improve the most?

What steps can I take to improve/maintain my effort and conduct?

What steps can I take to improve/maintain my grade?

What could my parents  and/or teacher do to help me improve/maintain my grade?

Now here is my more recent Reflection Sheet (though after reading Repair Kit for Grading I will be making some changes before I use it again)  they don’t look very different but there were things I thought were just too much on the previous version.  I was really just looking to simplify the form.

Communication Arts Self-Assessment

My   1st / 2nd / 3rd   quarter grade is ____% ____.

I feel this grade is:

I am usually/sometimes/rarely prepared for class (pen or pencil, communication arts binder, reading book, assignment book.)

I usually/sometimes/rarely complete my at-home reading logs.

What things did I do well this quarter?

What things do I need to improve on during the next quarter?

What do I need to do or continue to do in order to improve or maintain my grade?

How can my parent/guardian, Mrs. D. or another person (please name them in your response) help me achieve the goals stated in the question above.

So what do you think about conferences?  What has been the best for you?  What style do you like?  Did I miss any?