There are many benefits to parents being involved in their children’s lives, especially when it’s about academics. Parent-teacher conferences often offer insight to how a child is doing in a particular class, explore what they’re learning, and they allow parents to meet the teachers in an informal setting.
However, Allison Ricket, writer for Teaching Tolerance, states that cultural barriers might discourage families, students, or other supporting role models from attending these conferences.
She found that making minor changes to the traditional structure of “parent-teacher conferences” proved to be more beneficial not just for her students or their families, but for her as well.
Ricket recommends changing the name to something that won’t alienate portions of the student bodies who are raised by grandparents, older siblings, foster parents, or legal guardians. Changing the name redirects the focus of the conference back to the student’s needs.
Some families run into the issue of child care. They may not be able to afford a sitter or some other form of child care and therefore, can’t attend the conference. If allowed, have your school accomodate those with small children during conference times. If that isn’t an option, make sure each teacher has a kid-friendly corner that could include coloring books, reading books, age-appropriate puzzles or games, a computer with games, or any other items that might occupy a child’s attention.
One issue that teachers run into at conferences is language barriers. During conferences, try to provide an interpreter. Some families who don’t speak English may be intimidated by conferences and won’t attend if an interpreter is not made available. For schools without interpreters or staff members who speak a second language, Ricket recommends asking someone from a local college or a community leader to provide interpreting services for the evening.
It is important to make your families feel like conferences are a safe place to talk. Small things such as sitting at a table or next to them will make families feel equal. Also, feel free to present them with the child’s work or data, but let them lead with any questions or concerns.
Ricket also recommends allowing a flexible schedule for conferences. Don’t do conferences strictly during the day. Schedule conferences up until 7 or 8 p.m. These changes allow families to make the conference without possibly leaving work early. If they aren’t available to meet in person, a phone conference would also work if they are in transit or on a break.
If you are a teacher, what are some things you do to prepare for conferences? If you are a parent, sibling, foster parent, grandparent, or legal guardian, are there any changes you would like to see in your child’s conference night?