Student conferences, sometimes called parent-teacher conferences, are meetings between a student’s caregiver and their educators. These conferences are critical in a young learner’s academic and social emotional development. This is because they progress more effectively and efficiently when there is unison between the adults responsible for them in both their school and home. Sometimes, the students themselves may be invited to attend, and this can help to instill responsibility and agency among these learners. Other times, however, these conferences take place with only a student’s educators and caregivers, especially if there are problems that need to be addressed. This blog aims to give leaders and educators guidance on best practices for these student conferences, regardless of who is in attendance.
Use a timer
Our first tip is to use a timer that can be displayed where all involved parties can see it. This keeps you and the caregiver on task and helps to pace the conversation so that the most important aspects are discussed. Should time run out, don’t be concerned about ending the conversation there. After all, when one meeting runs over it pushes back all subsequent meetings, too. You can always resume the conversation via email, phone, or even schedule another conference. If you’re needing to find out more information regarding their opinions on district culture and climate, use an online tool to help you.
Allow buffer time
Another way to reduce delays and other problems caused by running late is to allow yourself a 1-minute buffer time. This will allow time to end the conference, for caregivers to exit/enter the room, for your to prepare for the next meeting, and for everyone to stay on schedule. You can always plan for a longer buffer time too, should that be necessary. Whatever length of time you’re planning for, just simply deduct that number from the overall conference duration. For example, if conferences are scheduled for 15 min back to back, set each timer for 14 minutes instead. When the timer goes off, you will have time to politely end the conversation and prepare for the next one.
Have an outline
When you have an outline for your conference, it allows everyone to know in advance what the main talking points will be. Create a template that each meeting follows and share that ahead of the conference with the caregivers you’ll be talking to. This lets them know what to expect and helps everyone stay on track. You should always ensure that you discuss the most important topics toward the start of the meeting in case time runs out.
Be organized with your documents
To ensure you do not waste time looking for information (and that privacy laws are always upheld and no caregiver sees another student’s information), have all documents sorted and in their own files ahead of time. If you need to gather data reports, student work samples, forms that need to be completed, or any other information, having this organized ahead of time will help you tremendously on the day.
Begin with student strengths
A great way to start off a conference is to begin with the student’s strengths. What caregiver doesn’t want to hear about their child’s achievements and accomplishments? You could start by highlighting the student’s strengths both in their academic performance and related to their character. This also helps to set a positive tone for the conference, even if you are going to deliver information that may be difficult for the caregiver to understand. Some caregivers rarely receive positive feedback about their child and will be much more receptive to information, feedback, and problem-solving with you after receiving some.
Be mindful of tone
Being mindful of how you deliver information, particularly negative or difficult feedback, can help mitigate any negative responses to it. Remember, it’s often very overwhelming for caregivers to be presented with data they may or may not understand. Additionally, some caregivers, particularly those whose children are prone to problematic behaviors, may feel confronted by schools rather than supported. Try and present information in a way that is calm, unjudging, and relatable. You could even give them a comparative example of something outside of education if this is possible.
A great way to start off a student conference is to begin with the student’s strengths!
Leave time aside
Student conferences can pass quickly and there are likely to be many points for discussion. However, if possible, try and leave time for open discussion or questions. The caregiver may have something that came up during the information that you are sharing that they would like to discuss. They may also have things on their agenda or mind to discuss, too. Using a 24/7 feedback tool, such as Voice, allows caregivers to send comments, questions, concerns, and praise to the relevant school staff, at a time that suits them best. Facilitating this communication process in your school community can help decrease any surprise topics or questions during face-to-face meetings.
Always remember to thank the caregiver for their time! It can be challenging for some caregivers to attend these meetings because of responsibilities such as work, childcare, and other life stressors. Remind them that you are a team and that all parties involved are aiming to give their student the best possible outcomes - academically, socially, and emotionally.