Conferences always sneak up on us. I keep a yearly reminder in my phone beginning 6 weeks before conferences. It goes off once a week every week until conference week. This reminder just keeps all there is to do surrounding conferences in my mind. Little things; like saving work samples rather than sending them all home and making copies of conference reminders or other forms. By doing a little here and there weeks before, I am more prepared and so much less stressed.
In our district we have conferences once a year. Sometimes this is the only opportunity I have to meet with parents and talk about their little one. I'm always so disappointed when a family isn't able to make it to our scheduled conference. It's a time that I really look forward to.
Over the years, I have tried a few things that have proved to increase family attendance at conferences. I am excited to share these with you, but if you have any ideas I would love to hear them too! Each year I try something else and I push a little harder, because this time is so valuable. So please, take a minute to share your thoughts in the comments too!
#1: Keep it as positive as you can. I know that we want to be honest with families. I know we want to make sure they leave having a clear picture of who their child is as a learner. I also know that this can be a time when we want to address behavior problems that may be happening. You can still do all of these things, but with a greater focus on the positive.
Parents who come to conferences year after year to hear how awful their child is doing, or how they can't keep their hands to themselves or can't stop talking, get tired of hearing it. They feel like they are just going to come to conferences and hear the same things they heard last year. Because of this they might decide not to go. If a student is struggling with their behavior in class, try to make contact with the parents ahead of time.
I know that if my son was having a hard time following directions, listening, or being kind to others I would want to know right away. I would feel a bit frustrated finding out two or even three months into the school year. It almost seems unfair.
Parents should have the opportunity to address any behavior issues before meeting with the teacher at conferences. I know how busy we all are. Making phone calls is one of my least favorite things to do. I get clammy and uncomfortable. I just don't like doing it.
But I do.
If a behavior is happening so often that we feel like we need to bring it up to a parent to address at conferences, then we should find time to make a phone call home before. I make my calls on the way home from school. I put the phone number in my phone as I walk out and once I am on the road I hit call. It usually takes no more than 5 minutes of my time and by doing it while I'm driving I feel like I am maximizing my own time rather than using time that I could be lesson planning or spending time with my own kids.
#2 Send home conference forms in a family's first language. I have been guilty of sending home everything in English in years past. I know it can be hard or even sometimes impossible to have every thing you send home translated. When it comes to conferences though, find a way. Even if you have to type a disclaimer telling families that you had to use GoogleTranslate. Let them know that it is important to you to be able to communicate with them. I even apologize that I don't have a better way of doing so, but I assure them that it is a priority. Somehow get any form you send home to schedule a conference time or confirm a conference time translated to the family's first language. This act alone can feel more welcoming than we may know!
We are so lucky to have some incredibly wonderful bi-lingual teachers in our building. They helped translate my conference forms this year and I am so incredibly thankful.
If you're in need for Spanish/English conference forms you can find them in my store HERE.
#3 Involve the student in the conference. Even if it's for a short amount of time. If the kids are excited they are more likely to encourage their parents to come. This year, I am doing Student-Led Conferences for the first time. I haven't even done them yet, so I am far from a pro.
In years past, however, I have designated a portion of the conferences to having students share a piece of writing or a sample of work that they are most proud of. We spend class time before the conference going over their role and how important it is that they attend the conference with their parent. You could even have them write a letter inviting their parents to their conference.
I will do a post a bit later on how my Student-led Conferences go this year, but for now I have if you're looking to get started you can check out the forms I am using HERE
#4 When families don't show call. Call them right away. Don't ask them when they can reschedule. If you have room in your schedule suggest a time that you have available. If you ask them what day and time and they tell you, but you don't have it available it shuts them down. Instead, say, "I have a 6:00 p.m. open for tonight. Can you make it then?" More often than not families say yes and they stick to the second time.
#5 Make it interesting. I know it's important to go over the report card, but if it's boring families are likely to just tune out, as least for part of it. I try to explain the grading system and provide a handout to go with the report card. Then I keep the focus on student work. That's what parents want to see, especially in elementary school. Grades are fine. We have to give students grades. But, a grade means nothing if parents don't know how to help their child improve or make growth. Take a look at the FREEBIES above for some great collaborative goal setting.
Not only are conferences a time for families to take a glimpse into where their child spends nearly seven hours a day, but I also see it as an opportunity to develop a family's sense of comfort with school. Your conference with a family could set the tone for whether or not they attend conferences year after year. Take the opportunity to make sure they know that their child's school is a place where they are valued and welcome!
Remember share your tips and thoughts in the comments below. I would love to try out some of your ideas, too.