Sunday, January 14, 2024

Caregiver -Teacher Conferences (Parent-Teacher Conferences)

 This is a post that I have had planned for YEARS but never actually wrote.  I was planning on writing it during the 4th week of March, 2020. And we all remember how that went down...

Here is the plan that I used for nearly every caregiver conference after I jumped into an acquisition-driven, comprehension-based framework (and started using Somos), and it made conferences more of a pleasure than a pain. *Usually.*

A quick word about my context: 

  • Expected to be available to meet for 10 minutes with every student's caregivers, 2x a year, October and March.
  • About 85% of families and caregivers chose to meet with me.
  • *Not* student-led. In fact, caregivers were told that students were not welcome. 
  • Middle school. 
  • Our conferences were  *not* about grades. We were explicitly told to focus on other things- if grades came up we could address them but teachers were not supposed to bring up Little Johnny's grades and talk about them to use up our 10 minutes. 
  • We had marathon sessions of conferences- like 4-5 hours straight, and they went until after my bedtime.  They were so exhausting that I had to figure out how to make them very formulaic so that I didn't make terrible mistakes. (Like that time I told a caregiver that the kiddo was doing great, no concerns, and she emailed me the next morning saying "then why does she have a D in your class?" That was just plain exhaustion.) 

Plan Ahead

Martina Bex and The Comprehensible Classroom created a couple of resources that became really important to me for conferences. I had to be very intentional and plan how to use them with students throughout the year to maximize their usefulness. Here's a brief plan, with links to the products and very detailed descriptions. 

Week 1, Beginning of the Year

  • Assign a the Syllabus homework to students and caregivers
    • Location: Available as a free download, Somos 1, Unit 1
    • Pro tip: use different colored paper for different sections- easier to file later! 
  • Collect and actually read them as they came back, and follow up as needed/make notes of information.
  • File those very valuable pieces of paper in files with student names (or have them file them for me!). 
You might be wondering why I do this on actual paper? For one, I like paper. I like having something physical, and in order to share it for conferences, we need something physical. For another thing, it was more likely to get seen if it was an actual thing rather than a link. 

September, Beginning of the Year

  • Follow up with any students/caregivers who didn't turn it in. I need this before Fall Conferences! 
  • Bulletin Board prep:
    • These are located in the hallway where caregivers wait, and are *very* valuable in sharing information passively with all school stakeholders!
    • Proficiency Descriptions Bulletin board, created with students. Read about that and see some photos here: Teaching about Proficiency Levels
    • Start to create the Reading Board to be ready by conferences.  (This is a post that is coming soon...once I find the pictures! You can get a sense of what they look like at the start of the "Classroom Video Tour" Fun Club Episode. starting at 9:56-11:30 or so.)   

October, Fall Conferences

For each scheduled conference, have:
Note: I just put these in tubs that I bought at the dollar store, in order of the conference time because we had no time between meetings. We were scheduled minute by minute- like one conference would end at 10:10 and the next one would begin at 10:10. 

In my meeting place, have:
  • 2-3 chairs of different sizes (so that different bodies and preferences felt welcomed!)
  • Table
  • My list of conferences/attendees
  • Tub of student materials
  • Copy of the syllabus with proficiency levels on them, for each level.
  • Digital clock to keep us on time!
Flow of meeting
Each conference would go pretty much the same way (with variations, of course):

"Thank you, I'm Elicia, and I'm, happy to meet/see you again.
Since we have only have 10 minutes, I want to go over any questions and information you provided on the syllabus homework, show you a short sample of Little Johnny's work, and answer any other questions you have. What is Little Johnny saying about Spanish at home?"

I would listen, respond, and then:
  • I would go over their version of the syllabus homework, 
  • show them a work sample (usually from the interactive-ish notebook),
  • share whether I had any concerns about them progressing or anything else, 
  • Finally answer their questions.
Usually, their questions were some variation of "how can I help at home if I do not speak Spanish?" or "How can I help at home if I do speak Spanish?"  My answers were: 
  • ask your student about Spanish class, 
  • ask your student to read something from our Canvas page or their notebook and tell you about
  • read something with them from one of those sources. 


As we do timed freewrites, have students file them in their portfolio whether they are graded or not. 
As we start our free voluntary reading program (FVR), have them keep track of their reading with sticky notes, and periodically, add to the sticky note graph on the Reading bulletin board. 

Mid February, prepping for Spring Conferences

Plan a day in my schedule for every class to do some reflections. This will take at least the full hour, so maybe do it on a day when they are all too tired (or I am!) to do anything else! 

Print out a reflection packet for every. single. kid. (Do this on the same colored paper as the syllabus homework! You will thank yourself later!) 

Reflection packet:

I used the two reflection forms from The Comprehensible Classroom and added another page to ask about their reading. 
  • Student Self-reflections (2 pages)  Subscriber library /  Administrative Items: CC Subscriber Library / Student Self-reflection form
  • Reading form: (to be added!) 
Students were asked to get their portfolio files and their interactive-ish notebooks, and fill out their reflection sheets. One was about their behavior and engagement, another was about what they were learning, what helped them learn, and most importantly, a piece of work that they were most proud of. 
They marked this with a sticky note in their notebooks or put it on the top of of their portfolio (so I didn't have to search in their file). They also had to explain why they chose this and how it demonstrates their increasing proficiency. 

I did stipulate that the work they picked was a graded assessment, so that I knew that I had seen it and graded it. If they *really* wanted something that I hadn't graded, I asked them why and if it was a good reason, I would assess it using the same rubric that I use for that type of work. They usually didn't need this option. I did this because some would pick some really silly activity that didn't showcase their learning, where the assessments were very much designed to show what they knew and could do in the target language, and assessed accordingly. 

This type of reflection was really, really, really hard for a good number of students and also for me. It took SO. MUCH. TIME. Some would write no-no-no-I haven't learned- nothing on every page. I had to be constantly circulating, keeping an eye on the ones who would try to do the minimum, cajoling, modeling what to write, doing brain breaks with them, practicing patience, and pointing out what I thought was amazing from their work. This was always a very trying day for me, but the payoff was 100% worth it. It was even worth giving up an entire class period to not doing something input focused.

When they were finished, I had them bring their file back with their reflections on top and their work sample clearly marked.  Some had to finish the next day. 

Spring Conferences

I had the same things as before:
  • Tubs of portfolios and notebooks
  • Chairs
  • Table
  • Digital Clock
  • Syllabus for each level with proficiency descriptors. 

I started each conference in much of the same way, with this difference: 
"Thank you for coming and I'm happy to meet you/ see you again.
Since we have only have 10 minutes, I want to share with you some work that Little Johnny chose as the work they are most proud of in Spanish, share their reflection on their work so far, and answer any other questions you have."

From that, I let the students' words speak for themselves.

Celebrating Success

Here's the thing: most kids, when they are supported in being reflective, are incredibly aware of themselves. They know when they need improvement, and where, and they also know when they have done good work. 

It was so incredibly joyful to show caregivers what students CAN DO. Sometimes the kiddos picked two pieces of writing to compare and wrote about how much more they could write, or how they were really proud that they could correctly infer meaning from a reading quiz, etc. 

Instead of conferences being something to dread, they were (usually) little celebrations that left me feeling motivated and successful and caregivers feeling proud.  

Of course, I also had to have hard conversations and I had caregivers be mean and tell me that I was a terrible teacher, but that's part of of the job too. I had a LOT more positive interactions when I prepped for conferences this way, and I grew relationships with caregivers that was based on positives, which made any negative conversations easier overall. 

And the best one? When that one family apologized, years later, for being so unkind in prior conferences, saying that their older kiddo had learned more in my class than any other, and they were grateful to me. 

I hope that reading about how I set up conferences can give you some ideas for how to make these opportunities easier and positive. 

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