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Parent Conferences Online????

It is often difficult to schedule parent conferences.  Some parents are deployed overseas, others work two or three jobs and just can’t make it into school during conference times, and some parents have such awful memories of their own schooling that they avoid coming back to school like the plague.  The dilemma is, of course, we all know students tend to be more engaged in school when there is good communication between the teachers and the parents.

I was perusing Larry Ferlazzo’s blog and came across a posting entitled “Online Tools for Real-Time Collaboration.”  And I began to wonder…could these tools be used to strengthen school-home communication? Could parent conferences and student-led conferences be conducted with these tools?  Hmmmm…I wondered some more–I do a lot of collaborating with colleagues when  crafting presentations and writing articles using iChat and Skype using the screen share capabilities of each application.  Surely there must be ways to utilize these online tools effectively to increase parent communication.

I can only wonder about this possibility because I don’t have my own classes anymore.  But if I did, I know I would be experimenting with some of the tools Larry mentions as well as Skype!

I would…

  •  Start with a pilot program that I had cleared with my administration
  • Explain to all parents what I wanted to accomplish with online conferencing
  • Ask for a couple of techno-savvy parent/guardian volunteers who were willing to experiment and give me feedback
  • Start with conferences that I knew were going to be very positive–I wouldn’t want to be dealing with possible techno glitches during a potentially stressful conversation
  • Survey the volunteers for the positives, minuses of online teacher-student-parent conversations and ask for suggestions to make them better
  • Try a second round after having made adjustments to my first protocol

I know that this solution to reaching more parents wouldn’t work for everyone because both ends of the conversations need computers with cameras.  However, in the near future this equipment will be ubiquitous in homes and public libraries.  There are possibilities for us in education to take advantage of the applications designed for business–we just need to experiment.

I’m really curious to hear how others might be using these online conferencing tools!  Has anyone out there tried online conferencing with parents?

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PARENT CONFERENCES

I used to dread parent conferences.  When I was young teacher, I was afraid the parents would figure out I didn’t know what I was doing.  Later on, the conferences were often negativity-fests focused on a 12 year old.  The team spent way too much time enumerating deficits and missing assignments. Very little was accomplished.

Teams, with a little planning, can takes steps that are more likely to lead to positive outcomes for parent conferences:

I. Take time before the conference to summarize the team’s concerns and devise a plan of action.

  • As a team read “Motivation and Middle School Students” (ERIC Digest); it contains ideas that the team might incorporate in their plan.
  • Share concerns that stretch across the curriculum.  Keep the list very short.  Too long and it becomes impossible to effectively brainstorm solutions.
  • Look at the data you have available, all of it.  There’s more to a student’s progress than just test scores.
  • Be prepared with specific, doable ideas that include teacher actions.  Chances are the student’s behaviors are long-standing, and if the parents could change them by themselves, they would have done so already.

II. Choose your setting:

  • Find a space that is neutral.  Meeting in the classroom of a teacher whose course the student is failing sets a negative tone right at the beginning.  A conference room or a guidance counselor’s office is better.
  • Think about the furniture.  If the only choice is an rectangular table, make sure one of the team members sits on the same side of the table as the parents. Sitting across the table can signal an adversarial position.  You want the parents to see you as a partner, not the enemy.

III. Start the conference with positive attributes of the child.

  • One of the benefits of being on a team is that the different teachers have multiple perspectives.  Some may have a better relationship with the student than others and know more about his/her interests and strengths.  A team is able to use the information gathered through their different perspectives to connect with parents by acknowledging a child’s strengths.
  • Give parents an opportunity to comment on their child’s strengths and their hopes for his/her future.  Parents concerns may surface, and it’s important that the team note and address them.

IV.  Use a third point of reference–by having paper or a chart or some other exhibit to focus on, the conference becomes about the information, not the person delivering it.

  • Avoid going around the table and having each teacher list all of the missing assignments. This information just becomes overwhelming.
  • Instead of listing missing work, share exemplars of grade level work. Help parents compare them to examples of their students work.
  • Share appropriate test data. Share a data chart that shows the percentage of work completed in every class.  Have a colleague observe your class and make a chart of on and off task behavior.  If it’s a behavior issue, look at written documentation together and identify patterns.
  • Share documented quantifiable student action, not personal characteristics. Suggesting a student is lazy to a parent, no matter how tempting, is usually not helpful.

V. Be specific about what the student must do to improve achievement or demonstrate mastery of a skill.  Don’t focus on grades or test scores; focus on skills and knowledge.

  • Share what steps will occur in school.
  • Ask what parents feel they can supervise at home. Today’s reality is that parents are working two jobs and not home.
  • If the student is at the conference, include him or her in the discussion.  Be very descriptive about specific next steps that are within the student’s control.  Focus on the task of becoming more proficient at a skill, not completing homework.  Students have had the homework lecture numerous times and nothing changes.  Try a different approach.
  • Be prepared to suggest some web-based strategies that might engage the student.  This is the digital generation.

VI. End the meeting with a follow-up plan.

  • Make sure both the student and the parents know how progress will be assessed and  shared.
  • Set a date for a follow-up meeting in person or via Skype or phone call.
  • End with a strong affirmation that the team likes the student and recognizes his or her strengths.

Something to note–student-led conferences often make some teacher-parent conferences unnecessary because the student is showing evidence of his or her effort and progress in a portfolio.

Sites for info on teacher-parent conferences:

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