Last Thursday, we held our parent-teacher conferences, following the recent distribution of our first interim report. For the past serveral years, we have hosted this event using a hybrid of appointments in the afternoons with a carousel style in the gymnasium during the evenings. This year, we decided to change the format to walk-ins only and moved the time frame from 2:30-6:00. Before I discuss our reasons for doing this, I will say that this was the largest turnout of parents we’ve ever experienced. Our estimate is that we saw over 800 parents that night.
A common complaint from teachers regarding parent-teacher conferences is that we only get a small percentage of parents out to these events. We have considered the ways in which we communicate with parents about parent-teacher conferences. We now send invitations home via email, put notices on our web-site, place a reminder on our interim reports, and even use our autodialer to contact parents of students who are showing very limited success in their classess. Our teachers are also reminding students to invite their parents to the conferences and many of our staff are contacting parents directly to invite them. Suffice to say, most parents are receiving the invitation about parent-teacher conferences.
We decided to shift our times for conferences from 2:30-6:00 because we felt that more parents preferred to stop in to the school on their way home from work, rather than go home, make dinner, and then join us for the conferences. We had several parents already lined up to meet with teachers at 2:00 pm, ensuring that they would avoid any line-ups. Of course, now that we have more parents showing up, we have the challenge of how to manage line-ups. We are now looking at ways to improve this for our next set of conferences, but it’s nice to have a problem in which so many parents come out to speak with our teachers about their child’s progress.
More interesting to me though is why and how we do our parent-teacher conferences. As a parent, it is nice to have an opportunity to speak to a teacher about my child. I want to know how he or she is doing, where they can improve, and just get an overall sense of a teacher’s perception of my child. There is much more to education than learning outcomes, so I’m often curious about my child’s work ethic in class, his or her relationships, and overall attitude. How my children conduct themselves at school is sometimes different than the way they present themselves at home. As an educator, I enjoy this time at parent-teacher conferences to get to know parents, and learn more about what they perceive are their child’s strengths and areas for growth. I often find that their insights are helpful in assisting me with the way to motivate, enage, and ensure that their child is working to their potential. I also get a perspective on a parent’s expecations of their child. This too is helpful in knowing what we are all working towards.
If the purpose of our conferences is to promote the growth and development of a child, does our current format actually do this? Many elementary schools have moved away from parent-teacher interviews to student led conferences. It’s an interesting concept which allows our children to tell us what they are proud of, what they’ve been learning, and how they can improve. I sometimes hear parents tell me that while they enjoy these student led conferences, they miss the opportunity to speak to the teacher about their child. I sometimes wonder what student led conferences might look like at secondary school. Would students exhibit more pride? Would parents feel more informed about their child’s education? Would more parents attend? Would students demonstrate more growth and success? Would email, phone calls, or scheduled appointments provide parents with the 1:1 conversations when needed above and behond the student led conferences?
I’m interested in your thoughts. How might we improve these evenings to that they provide the feedback and insights to enable further growth of our students?