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It's Time for Parent-Teacher Conferences. Or Is It?


Ways educators are shaking up -- or doing away with -- traditional parent-teacher meetings.

It’s October, the month that brings you pumpkin spice lattes, major league baseball playoffs, and, of course, parent-teacher conferences. But some educators are changing the way they approach these yearly meetings. No longer do they sit in classrooms with a plate of cookies, watching the minutes tick by, hoping at least a few parents show up. They’re taking matters into their own hands—and the capable hands of their students—to ensure meaningful contact.

We asked educators on NEA Today Facebook how they approach parent-teacher conferences and here’s what a few had to say.

“I don’t like parent-teacher conferences,” admits Walter Koepfer. “As a special education teacher, I spend a lot of time talking to parents all year long. I don’t wait for meetings, or for problems. Some parents I call every day.”

But, Koepfer advises, the regular check-ins that are swapped for the traditional October sit down conference, must include positive news.

“I learned that when I was a general ed teacher and a student told me the only time I called her parents was when she did something wrong,” he says. “So I got on the phone and called her dad in front of the class. The first thing he asked was what she did wrong. I said nothing, she had aced a test!”

He handed over the phone and the father spent 10 minutes telling his daughter how proud of her he was, and Koepfer decided from that day forward he’d start calling parents about the good news a lot more often.

Betsy Erickson says she’s really proud of her middle school’s parent conferences because they’re not just for parents and teachers, but also for students. And they’re held during the school day as well as in the evening to offer more flexibility for everyone involved.

Students lead the conferences to discuss curriculum, goals, progress, and struggles, and together they meet with all of the student’s teachers from math, science, English, history, and PE.

“Parents spend about 30 to 45 minutes total,” she says. “We hold these meetings twice a year, and we have 85-88 percent participation.”

Like fellow educator Koepfer, Ben Mendoza isn’t a fan of the traditional parent-teacher conference. He recommends fostering a deeper relationship between parents and the school so that they feel more ownership of the school.

“To empower our parents, we must have a parent open door where parents are welcome to visit the classrooms all year round and at the same time get involved in school affairs.”

Marilyn Wing has an open meeting for parents of students in her ESOL department that works well for them.

“We serve supper and have presentations by the students, then we’d be available for questions or side conferences. An administrator was always there, so the parents could get answers to those questions, too. It was fun, and it saved us from tedious and unproductive meetings.” 

Want more tips for transforming your parent-teacher conferences? Check out these resources:

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