How do parent conferences make you feel – excited, nervous, or stressed? I used to be a blend of nervousness and excitement. Before each conference, I’d get the anxious feeling in my stomach and worry about upsetting a parent. I also would be excited, though, because this was my chance to show how much I cared for their child. During the conference, most parents just want to get to know me and find out how their child is doing so they can provide support, I felt so much better. Now with many teachers meeting parents through a virtual parent-teacher conference, we have to be even more prepared for the meeting and to help cultivate the home-school relationship.
A Virtual Parent-Teacher Conference is Still Effective
If you’re worried about virtual conferences having the same effect as in-person, don’t be! First, you may not even have the choice to have an in-person conference. We’ll have to make the best out of what we have!
Second, you are still accomplishing the main goal of conferencing, no matter how it takes place. Through a virtual conference, you will be able to learn the small tidbits about students like their hobbies, interests, and passions. You’ll also be able to address parent concerns and answer questions.
An added bonus to virtual conferences is that parents might love the convenience of being able to do the meeting with you from home, work, or while traveling.
We want to meet with parents so we can all understand a student’s needs, skills, and personality to help that child learn and grow the best that we can. That parent-teacher connection truly helps the teacher-student connection.
How to Prepare for a Virtual Parent-Teacher Conference
Being prepared for conferences is the first step to success! Plus, you’ll feel more confident going into the meeting when you have everything you need prepared and have laid the groundwork prior to the meeting.
1.Start the year with positive notes before setting up conferences for the year.
One of my favorite ways to build connections and relationships with the parents in my class is to send positive notes home during the first few weeks of school. Sometimes it was a detailed email home, but mostly it was a post-it with a brief note about something positive I noticed. Some of the notes I sent said things like:
- Sophia helped her friend learn how to swing today! She was so kind.
- Roberto did such a great job working independently during stations today. He was so focused!
- Today I noticed Alexia worked hard to stay focused and on-task. She listened so well all day long!
For virtual students, you can send a brief email with these quick noticings. It’s important for parents to know that we see and notice even these small things in their children. Remember, they don’t have to be academically based. Everything positive is worth celebrating! They make a huge impact on building positive relationships.
2.Schedule conferences and allow extra time for tech issues.
Use a site like SignUp Genius to schedule your virtual parent-teacher conferences. If you can, open time slots with a variety of days and times to try to get everyone scheduled. Also, consider allowing extra time in between your conferences in case anyone has technical issues.
3. Send an email explaining what to expect during the conference.
Before you begin your conferences, send an email to parents and let them know what to expect. Let parents know why you are having the conference and why it matters to them. Set the tone and reason in advance.
For example: “I hold conferences at the beginning of the year with every family to discuss where each student is , how we are going to keep making progress, and to connect with caregivers early in the year.” or “I’ve been noticing that Student does … Some examples of this are … I’d love to collaborate with you to come up with a plan to address this.”
Additionally, use the introduction email to gather some information that will be helpful to you during the conference. You could ask these questions and document the parent’s responses:
- What concerns or issues do you think your child is experiencing with school?
- What successes have you noticed your child has experienced this year?
- Do you have any specific questions or topics you’d like to discuss?
The answers to these questions will give you some great insight on how to steer the conversation during the conference.
3. Prepare for the virtual parent-teacher conference with data and examples.
Before meeting with parents, gather the data you have so far on each student and have it readily organized. You could create a data sheet for each student or have one big data sheet for your whole class. It should include:
- assessment data (guided reading assessments, sight word and letters assessments, math assessments, etc.)
- academic progress
- behavior performance
- social and emotional performance
I liked to do one concise and clear data sheet for each student so I could give parents a copy during the conference. Then, I’d use student work to provide specific examples for parents if needed.
Tips for Successful Conferences
A virtual parent-teacher conference will be very similar to your in-person conference. Remember the goal is to give parents important information about the whole student, gather information from parents, and create solutions together.
1. Try to talk to the parents or caregivers alone without your student.
Just like in previous years with face-to-face conferences, it’s nice to be able to discuss some things without the student present. In the classroom, I’d have a coloring station, blocks, or play-doh station set up for the student to do while I talked to parents.
For a virtual parent-teacher conference, you may have to indirectly suggest for the parents to send the student to go play. It could sound something like this, “Hi Roberto! It’s so nice to see you. Listen, I am going to tell your parents all about the great things you’ve been doing at school. I will see you tomorrow at school, okay? Bye Roberto!”
If the student doesn’t leave the computer, you can choose to be more direct or let it go and do your best with the student present. It’s totally up to you!
2. Use the “Compliment Sandwich”.
Use the “compliment sandwich” to offer praise and constructive feedback on how their child is doing at school. Offer something specific the child has done well or is improving on. Then, let parents know an area of concern. Finally, offer another specific praise point.
3. Ask open-ended questions.
Throughout the conference, ask parents questions to be sure they understand what you are saying. We also want to build positive connections with parents by including them in the conversation, not just talking at them. You could ask questions like:
- What questions do you have for me?
- What do you see as your child’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you feel your child is doing socially at school?
- In what areas do you need support at home from me?
- What goals do you have for your child this year?
4. Ask an administrator to join you if you think one will be difficult.
Remember that just like for in-person conferences, you can ask an administrator to be present for a potentially difficult virtual parent-teacher conference. They are trained to help manage and maintain parent-teacher relationships and often have great insight into difficult situations. Not only can they serve as a mediator, but they can also provide a unique explanation of student data or have helpful ideas for solutions.
5. Write down your notes and send them to parents after the conference.
Take notes during the conference and send them to parents afterward so they have a record of your conversation. I also liked to include some new positive notes about their child, too. After 20+ parent-teacher conferences, it can be hard to remember the details of each one. Writing it down is super helpful!
6. Document each point of contact, including virtual parent-teacher conferences.
Remember to record every time you make contact parents throughout the year, even just quick positive notes home. This makes it much easier to look back and see if you are consistently reaching out and connecting with parents.
To make tracking and documenting parent communication and virtual parent-teacher conferences much easier, I have two FREE options for you.
Next, I created a free AirTable template for you to use to be able to document parent communication no matter where you are. AirTable is a cloud-based database system. I love using it for all kinds of things. Learn more about it on my blog.
CLICK HERE to get the free base. Then, click “Copy Base” on the top right to save it to your Workspace. You’ll be set to easily track parent conferences all year long with everything in one place!
No matter how you hold your conferences this year, let’s use the time to learn and share to best help our students. Download your FREE printable parent communication log and AirTable communication logs and get started!