Author: Dawn Mitchell
It’s time for progress reports and many of you are already preparing for your first parent-teacher conferences to set student learning goals, to discuss student progress, and most of all, to establish a positive and productive partnership with parents that provides each student with consistent support for their growth throughout the year. I will share some resources for conducting parent teacher conferences, but first, I want to make a point that positive parent contact should begin before your conference.
My youngest child, Eli, is in the fourth grade. His teacher, Ms. Garrett, took time to send home this note to Eli during the third week of school. He came home beaming, holding his planner out before him like a beacon of hope for this school year. His first words to me when I came in the door were, “Mom, this is going to be my best year ever! Look at what Ms. Garrett wrote about me!”
These two sentences Ms. Garrett quickly wrote on his planner spoke encouragement into Eli and cast a vision for his year to be successful. She didn’t communicate yet about grades or academic progress…she communicated about him.
This is so important. She wrote a positive comment about who he is as a person and that she saw good things. He took that to mean that she thinks he is good. As his mama I am here to tell you that this isn’t always the case with his behavior or effort every single day, but knowing she sees his good points was immediately reassuring to me as his mother and especially to Eli as her student.
What power a teacher’s words have to shape a student’s belief about the year…about themselves…
A few weeks later when Eli received a poor grade on a social studies quiz on which I know he knew the material, I emailed Ms. Garrett and asked her for any insight into what went wrong on test day. She emailed back the following response:
“Thanks for getting in touch with me about this. I do think Eli can do better in Social Studies. Before the class took the quiz, we went over the information together and then they had time to study before we took the test. When the class was studying the information, I saw Eli reading his book. I told him this was time to study for the quiz, and he told me he had already looked over it. I encouraged him to study some more but he said he knew it. I think that is a great learning opportunity for him.”
Mrs. Garrett’s response was timely, honest, and provided Eli with an opportunity to learn from his mistake and provided me with the information I needed to support his growth in improving his performance on his assessments. When Eli and I spoke about his test progress he said, “Mom, I thought I knew it better than I did. I don’t want to disappoint Ms. Garrett.” Her communication of her belief in him was a powerful motivator for him to accept responsibility for his performance, but more importantly, to want to improve. He also trusted her feedback because he knew she believed in him and wanted him to be successful.
As a parent, I am thankful that Mrs. Garrett has been proactive with her communication as both of these interactions have happened long before our official parent conference. As an educator, they serve as examples of being intentional about our communication with parents so that it is positive and productive, timely and sincere, honest and helpful, while providing consistent opportunities for growth.
Below are five helpful tips from Elena Aguilar’s Edutopia’s article, “Parent Teacher Conference Tips.”
1. Approach Parents with Positive Assumptions
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
3. Be Solution Oriented
4. Take the Opportunity to Learn
5. Show That You Care
In addition to reviewing the article, I also recommend role playing any parent-teacher conference that you anticipate may be challenging. Ask your mentor or a trusted colleague/friend to play the role of the parent with the anticipated issue/challenge as you practice your approach and delivery.
South Carolina ASCD President