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When I used to teach middle school, springtime may have meant flower blooming and sun shining.  And, it also brought the terror of parent-teacher conferences.  I’m not sure how I escaped graduate school without even one word of advice on how to keep discussions with parents running smoothly.  Likewise, these tips can help to build smoother consultations with parents about their children’s treatment.

Here are a few tips I wish someone had shared with me!

Have a plan– Share the plan. It helps to have a plan of how you want to use your time together, to share that plan at the beginning of the conference and to use a clock to  help you stick to that plan.  “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Adams.  It’s such a pleasure to meet with you today.  We have a 15 minute conference slot scheduled.  What I’d like to do is take about half that time to hear from you how the year has gone, then I would like to look together at a few pieces of Amy’s work.  I’ll send you home with a sheet about what we’ve covered in class this year and a folder of other work she has done.”  Then use the clock to stick to this plan.  Tempting as it is to let timing be a bit lax, parents appreciate when conference start and stop on time.

Be a HOW/WHAT detective. I used to think that the most important part of a conference was to prove how much I knew about each child.  I thought a conference meant I needed to prove just how professional and on top of things I  was.

In fact, conferences are a unique time to ask questions of parents and to help them feel like they are a part of the team.  Placing the focus more on understanding how the parents see things can be eye-opening as well as incredibly soothing for parents.  “What has been best about this year from your perspective?”  “How do you feel about Sally’s math skills?  “What will Jonah be doing this summer?”  Somehow it’s almost more reasurring as a parent to be asked the right questions then to be given the right answers.  Especially, if the right questions are followed with a nice clean work portfolio to bring home and review.

Be a YES . . . AND AT THE SAME TIME Ninja master. Your job, no matter how off-the-wall, annoying or otherwise opposed to how you see things a parental perspective may be, when talking with parents your job is to always start by figuring out how they are correct– and then to go on to really chew on what what you’re learning from them.  “YES, Mrs. Smith, I can totally see how it seems that Andy gets lost.  There are lots of kids in our classroom, and I do have to rely on the kids to work independently.  He also is such a sweet and calm child, he really never draws attention to himself.”   Then, once a parent feels you really get their concerns, the door is open to add yours.  “AND, AT THE SAME TIME one of the most important skills at this grade level is for children to begin to do much more independent work.  I actually try very hard to step back and give the kids quite a bit of independent space so they can begin to learn how to organize their work on their own.”

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