Rebecca Oppenheim, Special Education Teacher, sheds light on the power of goal-setting Parent Teacher Conferences in this guest blog post. When she first started teaching six years ago, she struggled with the fact that not one parent attended scheduled parent teacher conferences. It wasn’t until she started teaching at C.W. Harris Elementary School, a longtime Flamboyan Foundation Family Engagement Partnership (FEP) school, when she learned that building strong relationships with families would be the first step to achieving highly attended parent teacher conferences that have made a lasting impact in her classroom and in her students’ learning.
During my first couple of years of teaching, parent teacher conferences were rough. I continuously had zero percent attendance from families. I did not understand why parents were not coming to conferences until I joined a Flamboyan partner school. That was the turning point for me; I learned that the issue started with me. Working alongside Flamboyan, I learned that I needed to get to know parents on a personal level so that we could build a trusting relationship. Once we had that trust, we could then partner together in academics.
Currently, I am fortunate enough to have had my students for three consecutive years. I teach a kindergarten-through-second-grade special education class. This has allowed me to form strong relationships with parents over the course of three years. I have gone from parents not wanting home visits and not coming up to school to them accepting a home visit and coming to every school event! This is attributed to the strong relationship and trust I have formed with them since 2013.
Now that we’ve formed a trusting relationship, parents and I can partner in academics. We do this through a number of strategies – one of them being goal-setting Parent Teacher Conferences. Three or four times a school year, I schedule conferences around parents’ availability. While I keep a three-week window open for conferences, I am always prepared just in case a parent comes up to school when I am not expecting them. I understand that parents work, live far, travel long distances to attend these functions, etc., so by holding the conference when they are already at school or when it’s convenient for them, we are sure to get it done.
To conduct an effective and efficient conference, I present the families with a binder that includes the student’s data, strengths, and areas of growth. It also includes activities that families can complete at home with the student to help achieve desired academic goals that we make as a team.
What’s important to realize, though, is that conferences do not need to have a one-size-fits-all approach with regard to where and when they happen. Some happen to take place in the classroom, while others won’t. For example, families love field trips. At times, I’ve scheduled field trips around the time of conferences and bring the students’ binders on the school bus. This allows me to hold conferences while we’re in route to the trip, coming back from the trip, or during lunch on the trip.
Today, parent participation for every round of parent teacher conferences I’ve hosted is at 100% attendance. Students come into school daily with strengthened skills and new knowledge that clearly came from extra work from the classroom that was reinforced by families at home. When parents see the impact of our partnership, they continue to come to school, reach out for resources and ideas, and push their student to new levels.