This week I had my first experience with the 5 minute drive-by conference. You know the one; all the teachers in the lunchroom at their own table, parents waiting in line, and once the timer starts, off we go for non-stop talking, the only caveat being you only get 5 minutes. Not exactly my cozy student-led conferences that I love so much. Why the change? Besides that this is how we do it at my new school, I also have 113 students. I don’t even know how I could possibly give them a longer student-led conference at the moment without spending weeks on it. And still, I wanted my students to be a part of it. I still wanted it to be worth the time for the parents, I wanted it to be meaningful. I therefore did this:
The students reflected beforehand. As always I had my students reflect on what their grades should be, what they were proud of and what they accomplished. I invited all of my students to come to their conference but knew that few of them would, but their voice needs to be present. This sheet allowed me to have the conference focus on their learning journey, not just what my thoughts were.
I reflected and wrote down beforehand. I knew it would take a long time for me to write strengths and goals for all of my students, but I knew it was worth it. In the week preceding conferences I spent every evening thinking about each child, writing down what I knew I wanted to share (beside their grades). I didn’t want the conference to be focused on the grades, I wanted it to be focused on the child. I was then able to share what my thoughts were after we looked at the student’s reflection.
I asked the parents how they felt and what they thought. My gut reaction was to not ask any questions and just run it as a fast monologue. After all, with only 5 minutes I have a lot to cover, but that is not the point of these conferences. No matter the time limit, parents/guardians/students should always have the time to speak, even if you feel like it may eat up too much valuable time.
Always find something good and end with that. Ok, so this is the fourth idea which I wrote about yesterday. In every conference I made sure to end with something good. I remember how it was as a kid to have your parents go to conferences without you; that nervous feeling, that growing sense of dread. As a teacher I want to make sure my students know that I am in their corner, even if there are things to work on. Often the last thing we say is the one that leaves the freshest impression, so make it something good.
Other small ideas include:
Be wiling to set up separate conferences. I knew that some of my students needed more time for discussion so rater than wait for parents to contact me, I sent out a blanket email offering every child a longer conference at a different time in our classroom. A few responded and there were even a few surprises of who wanted a longer one. You never know until you ask.
Bring out the picture books. I send all student work home so instead of having their to display, I will have some awesome picture books out. That way, parents can at least read some awesome stories while they wait.
Just listening. Often parents know exactly what their child needs to work on or they have simply heard it before, so stop talking and listen. Ask them questions and see how much they cover that you would have covered as well. Parents know their kids, sometimes we seem to forget that (myself included).
Treat ever conference as if it is your first of the day. Every parent deserves the best of you, so keep smiling, keep the energy up. Yes, I know it is like running a marathon to be your very best self for 4 or more hours, but that is what you should be. I had water and peppermints to help me keep up the spirit. We owe it those waiting to meet with us.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.