Preparing for Parent Teacher Conferences can be a little intimidating even for those of us who have been teaching for quite a while. As a music specialist our preparation for conferences is a little different than classroom teachers. Where classroom teachers may prep for 15-30 students if they teach a self-contained classroom, specialists prepare for 150-500 (and sometimes even more!). Here are a few tips for great parent teacher conferences.
Get your room ready. You’ve probably heard that you should dress for success (and you should) but the same idea applies to your classroom. Tidy up. Take a look at your classroom with a critical eye. Could something go in the closet, a filing cabinet or colorful bin? If I have time, I’ll often take a damp cloth and wipe down shelves or tables that have become a little dusty. Although we have an excellent maintenance staff, that’s not something they do daily.
Choose bulletin boards that might appeal to parents. Displays that feature student work or pictures are always popular. Don’t freak out if you don’t have them. I bet you can grab a variety of shots from a single day of classes. Print photos to your school copier instead of a photo lab to save a few bucks. Even in black and white, these glimpses of your classroom can help parents connect.
If I don’t have a board like this ready, I choose one that focuses on music advocacy. Click on the pictures below to learn how to download a few of my favorites.
Before conferences take a look around your room. Are there some things that shouldn’t be touched? You might want to put those away. It never fails that students will do things they KNOW they are not supposed to do when their parents are there. I have no idea why. I also have no problem correcting them in front of their parents with a statement like “Joey! Oh my goodness! Did you forget that we only touch the instruments with permission?”
This works for current students but some parents may let younger siblings run all around your classroom. Let’s face it. We teach in probably the most colorful, interesting and wonderful classroom in the building. Of course it’s going to make the little ones want to touch everything in wonder and awe. I put up anything that doesn’t bounce well. Just in case parents think it is fine to let their offspring shred my room while we talk, I also practice lines like “Oh my! You are going to be a great musician someday, but we should probably put these up for now.”
This doesn’t happen very often for me now, but at some schools this is a big problem. Think about how you will handle it before it happens. You’ll be more confident and your classroom will be safer.
Do you need to speak to some parents in particular? Send a note home a few days before asking them to stop by the music room before or after they go to their child’s home room. Give them a call during your planning time and let them know that you would love to have a few minutes to talk about their child’s musicianship. On occasion I will ask a homeroom teacher to send parents to me if they make it to their room during conferences.
When parents show up, always thank them for coming. Try these “Thank you for stopping by! I’ve really been looking forward to meeting you!” “It’s so great to see you. I was hoping that we would have an opportunity to talk about what goes on in music class!” or “Thank you for stopping by. I’m really looking forward to partnering together to find ways for Johnny to be successful in music class.”
I am never completely sure how many visitors to expect during parent teacher conferences. At my second school I was busy the entire time. My room was full the entire time and I stayed half an hour later just to chat with everyone. At another district I had a steady flow of visitors, but it was always the same group each Open House or Conferences. At my last school it was quiet. Super quiet. Like…got a couple of weeks’ worth of lesson plans finished and rearranged that piece for choir kind of quiet. That was nice for getting things done, but didn’t help me connect with parents like I wanted.
My advice if you tend to spend conference time alone? Bribe them! Send a note home with students a few days before saying that there will be a special treat for students who bring their parents to conferences. I usually send home a monthly newsletter so this was where I would put this information. When students showed up with their parent they got a treat from the goody box (candy, pencils, stickers, etc….). You could easily create seasonal gifts if you wanted. Pinterest is full of them!
I’ve also set a BIG basket of candy outside of my classroom door. When parents or kids stopped for a treat, I would take the opportunity to talk to them about music class. I have a big bulletin board right outside of my door so I could strike up a conversation about the display. A great one to use is Music and Me Pennants.
Create a space that doesn’t put a desk between you and the parents. Parents will feel more comfortable and you will seem more relaxed and relatable if you sit at a table side by side. If you don’t have an empty table (which seems like a rare thing in my classroom!) then set up chairs to facilitate discussion. Keep your papers on a music stand so that they are handy, but not in the way of conversation.
It is possible that you will need to think about creating a place for parents to wait while you chat with other parents. Create a place for parents to wait on one side of the room or right outside your door so that your conferences can still remain private.
Focus on the learning and what’s going on in your classroom. Take this opportunity to discuss activities that happen in your classroom and how their child participates and finds success. Talk about opportunities that students have in your classrooms and challenges that may need addressed. Show examples of what you are doing in class with paperwork or videos.
Be positive. Advocate for your program while you have a listening ear. Although I don’t think we should have to advocate for our programs every chance we get, the truth is most of us need to. Brag on your classes, your concerts, your students and explain why what you do is more than what they see at a performance.
Learn to be an active listener. This means that you pay attention and you let the parents know that you are hearing what they are saying by making eye contact, nodding your head and using body language and gestures that show you are listening. Don’t judge or interrupt with your ideas. Listen.
Repeat what they’ve said by saying “I heard you say that Joey tends to be quite the extrovert at home. Tell me more about that.” Use phrases that show you are listening like “I’m hearing you say…” and “You said…could you explain that a little more?”
Keep a bottle of water or a caffeine source nearby during conferences. Sometimes conferences are scheduled during supper time so have a snack that you can munch on in your desk.
When I started teaching, this wasn’t as much of a concern as it is now, but when preparing for parent teacher conferences think about what you will do if a parent gets out of hand. It could be that they get angry and are verbally abusive, but you may encounter parents that have been drinking, are carrying weapons (we are a c onceal and carry state), or are mentally unstable for a variety of reasons. Have a plan for reacting to these situations and getting someone else in the room or getting yourself out. This could be a simple as calling a teacher nearby or walking out.
Learn how to say good-bye. Learn how to finish a conversation so that it ends and you can move on to the next set of parents. I only mention this because I am a talker and I could just sit and chat all night long. I’ve learned to use the following statements:
“It’s been so great to see you. Thank you for coming in!” (Get up. Walk towards the door.)
“Thank you so much for stopping in. I am glad we had a chance to connect.” (Get up. Walk towards the door.)
“I don’t want to take any more of your time, but I have really enjoyed getting to know you. Please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call if you need anything.” (Get up. Walk towards the door.)
Did you see what I did there? Get up. Walk towards the door.
I’ve learned to do this because as a talker, I realize that I can monopolize a conversation and spend much more time than is needed. I need a way to close the conversation not only with words, but with a physical gesture. By getting up and walking to the door I am signaling to parents that our time together is over.
A few days to two weeks after conferences, follow up with parents. Send an email, a letter home or make a phone call. Let parents know that you were happy to meet with them and give them a little update if you can. Sometimes with my schedule I see their child once a week so I may need a couple of weeks before I can give much of an update.
I know. You are thinking “I saw 70 sets of parents during conferences! How can I follow up with all of them?”
You can’t. In a perfect world, maybe, but in reality it just isn’t going to happen. I tend to choose 10-15 parents to follow up with after conferences. I keep track so that after the next set of conferences I can follow up with someone else. If a child is really struggling or if we are working on a specific goal, I will prioritize that communication.
I have a freebie for you for reading this far! Download a set of five sign in sheets for parent teacher conferences.
Do you have other tips for music specialists and parent teacher conferences? I’d love to hear them!