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As parent-teacher conference time approaches for educators and families, the preparation on both ends looks a little different this year. Instead of the typical in-person meeting, many districts and schools have opted for virtual conferencing, which means families and caregivers will log in online in order to check in with their students’ teachers. 

And though this may feel less ideal for those who look forward to in-person conversations, virtual conferencing can still be productive, illuminating, and meaningful. Forging a solid parent-teacher relationship has never been more essential for student learning success, so armed with the right attitude and a few key tips, instructors and parents/caregivers can approach this year’s virtual conferences feeling prepared and optimistic.

Here are a few dos and don'ts for educators and families alike: 

Tips For Teachers 

  • Do share and ask about students' social and emotional wellbeing. It is always important but even more so now with all of the changes to school life. Parents and caregivers see their child after (and nowadays, during!) a day of learning and often have great insight into how their student is feeling. 
  • Do remind parents and caregivers of school expectations and provide them with additional digital copies of the school policy handbook, class schedule, and/or syllabus. This ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations. Also, if a particular student has become relaxed about coursework and the daily schedule, this may jumpstart the family/caregiver in getting them back on track. 
  • Do inquire about how it is going from their perspective. What has gone well? What has been a challenge? Not only do educators want feedback from students, but it can be eye-opening to hear from parents and caregivers, especially if their students have been hybrid or fully distance learning. 
  • Don’t be afraid to utilize technology. You can still highlight student work by screen sharing on Zoom to provide a picture of a student’s work, a Google doc, etc. Prior to conferences, prepare by creating desktop folders for student work or a list of hyperlinks to your class’ website or Wiki, which may make it easier to find during the virtual conference. Furthermore, if you use Turnitin Feedback Studio, you can take note of which QuickMarks you utilize most with a particular student and offer that feedback directly to the parent in support of that student’s writing growth. 
  • Don’t forget that as educators, we have a deep understanding of child development that not all parents have, such as how important structure and routines can be for kids or how a quiet space with few distractions is helpful. Offer suggestions to keep their student well organized and prepared, but don’t forget to be equally understanding, patient, and explicitly encouraging. Educators may not know all the struggles that families have been going through, like job loss, illness, working from home while trying to help their child with school, etc. Now, more than ever, teachers and families are working as a team.
  • Do follow up in the week(s) following the conference, just as you would an in-person meeting. Student growth depends greatly, not only on caregivers and educators being on the same page but consistent communication to ensure progress. An email, phone call, or text to the parent or caregiver directly, touching on something specific that you discussed in the conference, shows your investment in that student’s development.  

Tips for Parents/Caregivers

  • Do arrive at the Zoom call on time and ready to listen. Conference days are exhausting for instructors (back-to-back-to-back) and even a 2-minute delay can throw off an entire afternoon. Furthermore, it can be tempting to start the conversation immediately with your questions and concerns, but educators across the board highly recommend that parents/caregivers start by listening in order to gain a better sense of their child as a student. Then, when the instructor asks for your insight, you can offer your perspective with a greater context. 
  • Do come prepared with a list of questions for your student’s teacher, as it can help guide the conversation, especially with limited time. Furthermore, questions that lead to action items are sometimes more helpful than more general questions, for example: How is my student doing with addition and subtraction? What suggestions do you have for our family after school and on weekends to support their mental math skills?
  • Do know that educators, like families, are doing their very best amidst a pandemic. Many teachers are being asked to juggle both in-person and online instruction, while others are bearing the burden of caring for their own families while managing a full course load. As with everything in 2020: bring extra patience, understanding, and kindness to the conversation.
  • Don’t assume that your student’s teacher knows everything they need to know about your child. Oftentimes, a specific insight or detail that you might not think is critical, can be the crucial link in a teacher’s full knowledge of your kiddo. Something as simple as, “We’ve discovered that my daughter really struggles with focused seatwork in the afternoons here at home, so we have started to take walks between Zoom classes after lunch.” This small, but intuitive detail gives teachers a holistic view of your child as both a remote learner and a person. 
  • Don’t lose sight of what’s really important. The New York Times puts it well: Value process over product. It’s easy as a parent or caregiver to get caught up in the small stuff, like comparing your student’s accomplishments to others or fixating on one test or one grade. More than ever, students are feeling overwhelmed, so now is the time to support your child in valuing the learning process over simply acing exams. And during a virtual conference, this may look like asking questions about your child’s emotional well-being instead of what grade they got on a recent test. 
  • Do end the virtual conference with a plan. Every conversation with an educator can and should lead to action items, whether it’s something small (Read with your student every night before bed) or a long-term plan (Scaffolded steps to increase independent homework completion). Make sure you understand what has been shared and how it affects your student’s learning success and be sure to follow up with questions via email or a phone call if you need clarification. 

Remember: communication between parents/caregivers and educators is highly related to homework completion rates, classroom behavior, and participation in class. Additionally, when the school/home connection is strong, students know they have resources to turn to when facing challenges, which further strengthens their confidence and academic integrity. The parent-teacher conference shouldn’t be the only time during a school year that instructors and families connect on student learning, but it is certainly an important time. And while virtual conferencing may feel strange at first, after the call, you might just find that you enjoyed yourself and gained a deeper appreciation for your student and your role on their learning team. 

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