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Mastering the art of parent-teacher conferences

Tips from DreamBox Nation: how to lead parent-teacher conferences effectively whether in person or remotely 

As educators, you know a lot of work goes into leading parent-teacher conferences. Hours of preparation go into discussing important, and often sensitive, information with families in a limited timeframe. Plus, talking to parents can feel stressful and nerve-wracking. How do you kindly provide feedback while also making the experience positive for everyone?  

Fortunately, we posed that question to our educators on DreamBox Nation, and they rose to the occasion with helpful tips for mastering parent-teacher conferences. 

Talking points: accentuate the positive 

The key to a smooth and productive conference is balancing positive reinforcement with critical feedback. That said, it’s easy to overwhelm parents with too much information. Here are three ways DreamBox Nation members frame their conversations with learning guardians:

  • Serve up a growth sandwich: When providing feedback, start with a compliment, layer on some feedback, and finish with another compliment. In other words, sandwich your suggestions for growth between two healthy slices of positivity. This approach takes the edge off negative feedback and makes it easier for parents to process your suggestions.
  • Create quick snapshots: Offer a brief synopsis of the student’s performance in each subject accompanied by a compliment and a growth opportunity. Quick snapshots like these can be less overwhelming and still manage to provide parents with the encouragement they need.
  • Remain solutions-oriented: While it’s important to address a student’s growth opportunities, it’s just as important to offer actionable solutions for improvement. To avoid overwhelming parents, prepare a plan for the remainder of the year. Share clear next steps you and the student will take to help them grow.
  • Prepare key takeaways: To ensure parents remember the main talking points of your conference, create a summary. Include the student’s positive feedback, growth opportunities and solutions/next steps. If you’re having in-person conferences, this could be a three-column chart you hand to families. If your conferences are virtual, it could be a bulleted list you email to them.

Stay organized: back up your claims with evidence 

When it’s time to talk about a student’s performance, don’t just tell parents – show them. Have examples of their child’s work prepared and ready to show any time you confer with a parent or learning guardian. DreamBox Nation advocates also advise you to: 

  • Anticipate parent questions: Gather student work and assessment scores so when a question arises, you’re prepared with the data. Being able to cite specific examples not only helps parents understand, but it also reassures them that their student is getting the support they need. 
  • Use DreamBox: You can easily show parents exactly what their child is working on in DreamBox and how they’re progressing by simply sharing your Insight Dashboard screen during your parent-teacher conference. 

Get creative: make students and self-evaluation part of the equation

Don’t be afraid to try new things with families! Traditionally, the parent-teacher conference excludes students, but maybe this time you ask parents to have the student join. Here are three tactics DreamBox Nation members recommend for teachers who want to try a new, more inclusive approach: 

  • Ask them to share: Start the meeting by asking the student to share something they feel good about, or something they’re struggling with – it’s a great way to foster an open discussion. 
  • Ask them to come prepared: Have students bring examples of their work and be prepared to discuss them with their family and their teacher. This is an opportunity for students to take a more active role in setting goals, tracking progress and identifying areas where they may need additional support. 
  • Ask them to evaluate their own performance: Have your students complete a self-evaluation prior to their conference. It’s a great way to get kids to take ownership of their learning by reflecting on their goals and progress. Plus, parents are less likely to debate an evaluation if it comes from their own child. 

Stay calm: and carry on

Conferences can be nerve-wracking for everyone – you, the parents and the student. It’s normal! Just remember that we conduct conferences to support the students. Everyone at that table or on that video call has the student’s best interest at heart.

Come prepared, take a few deep breaths, and get your students involved so everyone stays connected.

This post was originally published on February 7, 2019 and updated on March 5, 2021.

@DreamBox_Learn