As an arts educator, parent-teacher conferences always went a little bit different for me. Most parents signed up for a conference with their child’s teacher, and then left the building. Hardly anyone ever stopped by the music room to talk about their child’s progress in my class. Those that DID sign up for a conference either wanted to discuss whether they should sign their child up for private lessons, or wanted to share with me their child’s latest recital pictures. While I always appreciated when parents were able to stop by my room, I definitely didn’t feel like my extra 3 hours each conference night away from my family were well spent.
That’s when I decided to make a change. If I wanted my time to count those evenings, I needed to make sure I was proactive in my approach with parents. I realize all parents want to make sure their children progress in school. For most, that means the areas with letter grades. And while I certainly gave letter grades, they didn’t carry the “weight” of the language arts and math ones that were on the report card. It became my mission to help parents see the link between how their child transferred information from my arts classes into all areas of their learning progression.
Doing this was definitely hard work, but so worth it in the end. By the time I had established this conference routine, I was able to touch base with parents in a more meaningful way about their child. In the end, bringing more value to the arts program in my school.
Here are my top 3 tips for integrated parent-teacher conferences:
1. Get yourself prepared!
One of the things I started to do at the end of October (our parent-teacher conferences were always at the end of November and beginning of February), was to identify the students whose parents I most wanted to connect with on those conference nights. These might be students I had concerns about, or those students who shone in my class. I created a master list for each grade, and capped the amount at 25 total students. Since we could fit in 10-15 parent-teacher conferences per night for two nights, this gave me some leeway. Along with, ensuring I wasn’t sitting in my room doing busywork.
2. Connect with the other teachers.
Once I had my master list, I reached out to these students’ classroom teachers and asked if we could collaborate on this child’s conference. There were many ways we could do this. I could sit in on the classroom teacher’s conference and offer insights from the arts’ perspective about the child’s unique progress. I could have a “piggyback” conference either directly before or after the classroom conference to provide my observations and ask for input from the parents about what I saw in my music class.
Or, the teacher and I could collaborate on the similarities and differences we noticed about the child between our two classes. In addition to, how we might be able to use these trends as a way to support parents in better understanding their child. Teachers loved this because it was another support for them during conference time. Parents appreciated it because it gave them another outlet to get to know their child’s overall academic, arts and social/emotional health.
3. Follow through and be organized.
Once I met with teachers and we developed a game plan, I reached out to parents directly either by phone, mail or email with a request for conference about their child. I gave them a choice of two times (either before or after their conference with the classroom teacher) if I wasn’t doing a joint conference with the classroom teacher. Then, I created my master list of time slots, and who I was meeting with at what time. I included a quick snapshot of information in each block about that student, which always included 2 positives and 1 “work-on”. This helped me stay on top of the whole process and to truly speak with the parents about my observations.
Once I implemented this method as part of my conference routine, I saw a sharp spike in the amount of parents who attended my events, supported their child in the arts, and who advocated for more arts programming in our district. It also afforded me the opportunity to see these children in a more global perspective of their learning, and to encourage more direct arts instruction in many cases as an alternative to more remediation.
Classroom teachers – this works for you as well, by the way! When creating your conference list, I encourage you to seek out and partner with the arts teachers in your building. They can help you provide a much broader picture of student achievement and help you to think about ways to support student learning that you may not have thought of in the past.
Parent-teacher conferences are a wonderful opportunity to truly connect with your community in an effort to facilitate the success of all learners. Let’s do this together!