I’ve been tagged to do a presentation on student led parent conferences.
I’ve done them exactly once.
That’s once more than anyone else at my school has done them, and the fact that I managed to do it successfully1 means I’m not completely unqualified to do this.
My plan is to tell a story, and let them fill in the bits. My part of the story demonstrates which questions to ask. Their part of the story is to answer them for themselves. The story is just an outline right now:
Open on a parent. They’re standing in line, looking at the same back of someone’s head that they’ve seen for the past 15 minutes. They get to see the teacher, get a flash of info, and then get into another line to look at the back of someone else’s head for another 15 minutes.
Flip to the teachers perspective: Face after face after face. Blur. The faces are all different, the students are all different, and the info you give is all different.
What’s the same for each and every parent? The questions. (If I ask my audience to list the four most common questions asked at parent conferences, they’ll get stuck. 90% of the parents only ask about the same 3 things).
If parents all want to know the same thing, you should be able to provide the information up front without waiting for them to ask. Since you’re not going to have the authority of your presence to back it up, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate it authoritatively.
(Audience figures out what they have, or can present, to answer the parents questions).
Do a quick sidebar to demonstrate my own documents: A manila folder with all of the students returned work, an assignment sheet2 with a record of each assignment, points earned, and total possible points, and the parent letter (partially written by the students, with a list of checkboxes for things they could do to improve their grade). All of the previous items are created and managed by the students.
So far, we have the questions, and we have the answers. The problem now is that parents will come to conference night expecting the same old routine. If we need to spend our time directing them, there’s been no gain.
Fortunately, each of those parents comes equipped with one of your students. Unfortunately, those students have no idea how to present the information to their parents. Good news, though: they’re your students, and you can teach them.
(Audience does a quickwrite of what they’d ideally have kids do when they bring their parents by the room).
We now have all the components – the whole process just needs to be assembled. This is done by calendar. At the beginning of the semester, students need to be taught to create and manage their portfolios and assignment sheets. A week before the conferences, all graded assignments must be returned, the students figure out their current grade, and work on the letter to their parents. This letter explains what the grade is, allows them to explain why they think they got that grade, and what they think they could do to improve their grade. The day of the conferences is dedicated teaching the procedure for that evening to the kids, and double checking that the assignment sheets and parent letters contain accurate information. Responsibilities during the actual conferences are reduced to monitoring the activities in the class, and answering that other 10% of questions the parents might have after their presentations.
The closing of the story is a collection of tips & tricks I figured out in the process of the first conference – things like making sure you know where the 5 best portfolios are, so that if a parent doesn’t understand why 30% of assignments completed at a D level isn’t sufficient, they can see what a proper portfolio looks like in comparison to their child’s.
1 Successful in this case means that I’d have 4-5 parents at a time in my room, each simultaneously getting a 10 minute explanation of what grade their child was getting and why. For 4 out of 5 parents, my sum total conversation with them was wishing them a pleasant evening. I spent most of my time sipping juice and talking to the occasional administrator that wandered by. The odd kid that tried to lie in their letter or assignment sheet was hoist on his own petard: not only did the comparison to other student’s portfolios make it clear that their work had indeed earned them their real grade, but parents were now alerted, by evidence, of their student’s efforts at prevarication.
2 A confession: Every year I try to set up the assignment sheet, and every year I give up on having to manage the students through them. I broke down and printed out each students individual grade summary through EasyGradePro. I’m hoping that the cost in toner will be some incentive to finally figure it out next year.