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Are you a middle school teacher with parent-teacher conferences coming soon? If so, you’re in luck! In this episode, Brittany and Ellie are sharing tips and strategies to make the most out of your meeting time with parents.
In this episode our hosts delve into how middle school teachers can make these meetings productive and positive. We discuss the different conference formats that are typically used, including traditional one-on-one meetings and student-led conferences.
We also explore the benefits of using an agenda to ensure that all important topics are covered and that both parents and teachers are prepared.
One of the key takeaways from this episode is the importance of staying positive and listening to parents, even when discussing any areas of concern.
Tune in for valuable insights and tips on making your next parent-teacher conference a success.
- Meeting as a teaching team
- Conference formats
- Using an agenda
- Being positive and listening to parents
- Student-led conferences
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Join Ellie’s Middle School Math Chats group on Facebook.
Hey there, it's Brittany and I'm here with Ellie.
Ellie: Hello there.
Brittany: and we are here to talk today about being a middle school teacher with parent-teacher conferences coming soon. If you're one of those teachers, you are in luck today because we have an episode where we'll be sharing tips and strategies to make the most of your meeting time with parents. Whether it's teacher, parent conferences or students are involved as listeners or leaders, we're gonna cover it all in this episode of the Teaching Toolbox.
So what were your conference formats like Ellie, did you have parent teacher conferences or just, or
[00:01:00] parent, teacher and students? Like how did your conferences run?
Ellie: I'd say throughout my career, whether it was elementary school or middle school, it was typically parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes a student might be present and they might sit in for a little bit, but it wasn't the norm. So, it was basically parent teacher conferences. When I was in elementary school, that was basically one-on-one.
So we would have the conferences with the students from our homeroom. If by chance we switched for anything, you know, we didn't meet with those parents of other, um, other classes. We just met with our own homeroom students, unless someone requested to have a conference. But it was basically myself with the parent for every single student. And those were probably, I'm thinking 15 to 20 minutes long. And then in middle school, we met as a team of teachers with any parent
[00:02:00] that requested a conference. It seemed like in elementary school, almost every single parent came in for conferences. In middle school, out of a team of 120 students, you know, we might have 40 or 50. It wasn't every single parent that came in, but when they did, they came in and we met with them as an entire team. And those conferences were also about 15, I think 15ish minutes. How about you? What were your conferences like?
Brittany: At the elementary school I worked at, uh, we did it much like yours. We met with just our homeroom kids. Our conferences were 20 minutes long, and again, we met just with the parent usually just one parent would show up and occasionally they would bring a child with, but usually it was just teacher and parent.
So very much like what you were saying with yours.
Brittany: [00:03:00] When I moved to the middle school, I worked at we actually did student led conferences, so the student was in charge of the conference. We would schedule conferences every 10 minutes, and teachers would rotate, but we'll get into more of that later.
So it was teacher, student, parent, and out of the about 120 students that we had, we were required that everybody have a conference. But I would say, you know, we would have no shows and that sort of thing. I would say we would get maybe about a hundred out of the 120 would show up for conferences.
Ellie: Wow. Wow.
Yeah, in middle school, they only had a conference if the parent requested it. If the parent had, the parent had to sign up for the conference time. Uh, otherwise they didn't have they didn't have a conference. Did you have them every quarter or did you have them once or twice a year. How frequently did
[00:04:00] you have your conferences?
Brittany: We had ours, uh, twice a year. Well, in elementary school we only had once a year. We had October was our conference.
You know, and then if parents wanted a conference at, at another time, you would obviously, you know, agree to that if there was issues or whatever. But formal conferences were only held in October.
In the middle school, we had them twice a year. October and March; October were mandatory, everybody has to meet. And then March were only students you had concerns about, and so you might only meet with like 20 or 30 at that point out of the 120.
How about you?
Ellie: Yeah, we had twice a year, both elementary and middle school. So they were November-ish, usually a little bit before Thanksgiving, and then March, April. So it was typically first quarter and third quarter. And
[00:05:00] elementary school, it was the same. And you got almost all parents in, in both of those time periods. And then middle school, as I said, if they scheduled it, then they came in. Typically a lot more came in in November. Not quite as many in March. And sometimes you, you really, really, really wanted certain people to come in and they just did not unfortunately.
Brittany: Did you ever get administrative support during your conferences?
Ellie: There were times that we did request that an administrator be there. Yeah. And so if we needed them, they usually put out a message before conference time saying, if you need our, our presence, if you need somebody to be there, please let us know and someone will be there for you. 'Cause we had a principal, we had two assistant principals. And then oftentimes we might have guidance counselors that would come and sit in.
So we did have support in that way. How about you?
Brittany: Same here. And that was very helpful, very good to hear. Especially, you know, having guidance counselors
[00:06:00] or having, sometimes we'd have the school psych or the school resource teachers be present and stuff. So, you know, just having that extra support sometimes gives you confidence to talk about what you need to talk about or, you know, the strength to handle a difficult subject or, or whatever.
Ellie: Right, right. And that's especially important if you are not meeting as a team to begin with. And you don't have that team support. you know, like as in elementary school when we met just by ourselves with the parent. It's good to have that type of support in case, you know, you have extra concerns.
So it's nice to have that support. That's great.
Ellie: Do you have any tips for how a conference should go? Like how did you start your conferences? How did you focus on things? Do you have any, any tips there?
Brittany: My first few years I was horrible at doing conferences. I, you know, I didn't really know what I was doing or the best way to do it, but after
[00:07:00] a few years I took a position where I would actually, I would write two to three bullet points per student that I wanted to cover. And then when the conference actually came, the first thing I would do after, you know, we greeted each other and sat down and that sort of thing. First of all, I would never sit behind like a desk or something
Brittany: the parent. I would sit if I could, I'd kind of sit next to them or 90
degrees to them.
Brittany: um, because I think it, it shows a different sort of status. And makes people feel comfortable or uncomfortable, how you approach them.
So I tried to sit maybe at a round table so you're kinda sitting more next to them, then across from them and that sort of thing. But I would also start the conversation by asking, you know, first of all, do
[00:08:00] you have any questions and. So that's how I would start off all my conferences. Do you have any questions or concerns? And that sort of gave the parent the feeling like they were in control.
Then I could go ahead and steer, you know, usually their question or concern was my question or my concern, my bullet points
Brittany: And so I could just steer it the way I wanted to steer it. Um, it made the parent feel more at ease. Like they were the one in control and their needs were being met and that sort of thing. And so it just, it kind of put the whole situation in a different spin from the beginning.
Brittany: How about you? How did you run conferences?
Ellie: Yeah, I agree. We, we pretty much did the same thing. Since we met as a team, we all might have one or two things that we wanted to address, or if there was a common concern across the team, there might be one or two things there that were common. But when, um, parents arrived, now in middle
[00:09:00] school, we actually did sit at like a big group of desks and there were four or five of us and then one parent.
So it, it kind of ended up being almost like a circle of, of all of us around that. So just thinking about the way you were sitting. And I know when I was in elementary school, I did the same thing with like, sitting on the same side of the table to be able to, to show work and things like that. But anyway, once they came in and, and we greeted each other, I tried to start with some type of compliment, something positive, you know, something to make the parents feel like their children were, were seen and appreciated.
Ellie: And starting off with that and then put the ball in their court basically.
And what concerns do you have? Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about today? That type of thing. And again, like as you said, it lets them feel like they're kind of in the driver's seat there. They're a little bit more in control of the situation. And typically there any questions or concerns they had were pretty much the same things that we were
[00:10:00] gonna talk about anyway.
So we would let them, you know, get their questions out and then, if there was something they didn't address during that time, then we would move on to any other concerns that we might have, and brainstorm and problem solve. Try to figure out how we could come to some type of resolution um, action plan for what we were gonna do to try to help the student in whatever the circumstance might be.
Brittany: Yeah. And then the compliment at the beginning, uh, is always a good idea. It's kind of like the Oreo method. Start with a compliment. End with a compliment or something like that.
You know, make sure that you're, uh, always giving them, starting them off well, and ending with a good thought.
Ellie: Mm-hmm. . Right. So we would typically end with, if, if there was some type of action plan or there's something that we needed to put into place, we would typically end by recapping that and then scheduling some other time to meet and discuss and, check and, see how things were going. So
[00:11:00] that was pretty much it.
I'd love to hear more about your student led conferences.
Brittany: Um, well with student led conferences, we actually had a team of 14 teachers in sixth.
Brittany: And so we had um, walls that folded up, like one whole side of the building. And so four classrooms could be made into one big classroom or one big area.
And so we would use those four classrooms, then we would make little pods of four or six. Then the students would come in, and we would have practiced with them little scripts and stuff. They would go through with their parents, you know, “I have a B in this class. This is why I have a B, I need to work on this, you know, this
[00:12:00] area. Here is my literacy plan, please read through it and sign it.” You know, they had a checklist of things that they had to go through. So they had an agenda, but they would go through their core subjects and any like literacy plans and stuff like that that they had, and then the teachers would actually rotate to the different pods.
Ellie: Oh, ok
Brittany: And so the teachers were constantly on the go.
Rotating from pod to pod to pod. So the students would come in, in like 10 minute intervals and just take a a pod somewhere in this giant room. And then as a teacher you would try to find them, which was kind of fun. You know, you had a schedule, you knew who was coming in at about what time. Um, then you would try to find them. You would quietly join the pod, kind of see where
[00:13:00] the kid was at with their script and everything. And then when there was a break in the conversation, you would introduce yourself and then explain, you know, who you were and how they were doing in your class. See if the parent had any questions or anything, and do an action plan if you needed, for that student, for that class. Maybe there was a behavior plan that needed to be done or a homework plan or something like that
Brittany: to get that student going. Um, you know, for 80 to 85% of the kids, it was pretty much just introduce yourself, give a couple positives, you know, explain yeah, they could do better with studying for tests or,
Brittany: they could do better on their note keeping, you know, work on their handwriting or something like that. And then finish with a positive and then you're up and to the next kid.
And so it was very fast-paced.
Ellie: Yeah. Yeah. So I'm trying to visualize,
[00:14:00] did you, were there, so there were four to six kids in the room at a time at the different pods.
Brittany: Four to six of your kids?
Ellie: of your
Brittany: Yeah. And your whole team is in there.
And then the other three teams, 'cause we had three teams of sixth grade.
Brittany: They're all in there at the same time.
Brittany: So you're, you're seeing kids who aren't yours and you're like, okay, I can skip that pod, I can skip that pod. Oh, I need to make it down to that pod.
You know, I have that kid.
Brittany: But since some kids were…like I taught on the Puma team, but a Wolf kid might be, might have a Puma math just because of how scheduling worked, you know, or something like that.
Brittany: So, Yeah.
Ellie: Interesting. Did you do that for quite a few years or was that only a couple years?
Brittany: Um, all six years that I worked at the middle school were that,
Ellie: Okay. Wow. . that's interesting.
Ellie: Did you like it?
Brittany: I really enjoyed it. It was, you know, it took a total mind shift to get used to it.
Brittany: Um, but it was really nice to have the kids in charge and leading
You know, it kept the day going really fast. The day like went over so quick.
Ellie: Was this during a regular school day then? Like a whole school day?
Brittany: we had um, Half a day on Thursday or half a day on Wednesday, and then a full day on Thursday or a full day on Friday for conferences.
And then we might get, if it was like Wednesday, Thursday, we might get Friday off, because there were nighttime ones.
Ellie: Yeah. We had those too.
Brittany: Yeah. So we might get the next day off, like Friday off to compensate for being there at night.
Ellie: Gotcha. Was it difficult to schedule all of that, or was it not bad?
Brittany: Um, first couple years we scheduled with paper
[00:16:00] and pencil. So that was, it was tricky.
Then we went to a spreadsheet. They did it, I believe on… I think they did it on Excel back then. It was, you know, Google was just becoming a thing…and so it might've been on Google, but I think it was on Excel, and then it was a little bit easier. But because you could schedule about 12 to 14 kids at a time, it wasn't that hard to fit everybody in.
Ellie: How do you think the kids felt about that? Do you think that they enjoyed having that opportunity to talk about that or
Brittany: No, they hated it. They didn't like being on the spot and having to lead. You know, your, your typical type A students really enjoyed, you know, being in that leadership position and, you know, I'm in charge and I get to show mom everything I've done and my portfolio
[00:17:00] and everything. Um, the majority of your kids were like deer in the headlights, you know. Even though we would, we would take several days in each class and go through the script and have them record all their data for the script, you know, and what's the what's the one positive you wanna bring up? You know, and we'd have them write it out and then what's a negative you wanna bring up? And have them write it out. And then they would practice with each other, you know, a couple times and stuff. But they still felt unprepared and like a deer in headlights when it came to doing it with their mom and dad and or their aunt and uncle.
Ellie: But what a great experience for them. That's fantastic for them to have that experience, to understand the preparation, to take part in that, and then to have that leadership opportunity, whether they wanted it or not, is good to at least have that experience.
Brittany: And we had, uh, file folders in the front of the room. Every
[00:18:00] student had a file folder and any returned work during the first quarter had to go in the file folder, and that was their like portfolio that they had to show their parents or their guardians or whoever.
Ellie: That's awesome. Well, do we have any other tips to add?
Brittany: So you, uh, you were talking about an agenda. Do you have something about an agenda
Brittany: that you wanted to bring up?
Ellie: Um, well, I just have a very brief agenda, you know, just kind of the positive comments, the letting parents ask questions, the concerns that you have, the action plan. So I just had a little sheet would have all of that information on it and have that for each student so it would help me stay on track, basically. And then I could record anything there that we talked about during the conference time, that kind of thing. So I do have that on my blog. It's just a, a free sheet, a general agenda that people could adjust the way they want. But that kept me on track because I tend to need to know
[00:19:00] what I'm gonna be talking about.
Brittany: Yeah. I think all of us need an an agenda or bullet points or something to, to follow, so.
Brittany: And I have a, a resource in my store um, student led conferences that
has the scripts and the scheduling spreadsheet and that sort of thing. So if people are interested in trying out student led conferences, that's available in my store.
Ellie: Yeah, we can put that in the show notes so that people can access that.
Ellie: That's perfect.
Brittany: Okay, so today we talked about different conference formats using an agenda to help guide the conference and the importance of creating an action plan, summing things up at the end of your time together, as well as, uh, different conference formats with students leading the conference as well. So make sure you check out the show notes for Ellie's blog post and my resource
Ellie: And be sure to hit the follow or subscribe button so you never miss an episode. We'll see you next time.