What to Say at Parent Teacher Conferences

Wondering what to say at parent teacher conferences? This thought keeps new and veteran teachers up at night during conference season. You love working with the little ones and watching them grow, but you are not quite sure how to communicate that growth to their parents at conferences. Here are several suggestions about what to say and share at conferences.

Show that you know their child.

When planning what to say at parent teacher conferences, start by showing that you know the child as an individual. This is the number one things parents want to know, especially in preschool, kindergarten and first grade. These are their babies and they have entrusted them to you. Do you really know them?

The first way to show that you see their child as an inidividual is to share a little anecdote from your time with them. You might share how Adrien helped an injured classmate last week, or how Cali likes to tidy up the classroom library every day. This is a great way to start the conference! 

Here’s what it might sound like:

Thanks for coming in today. I can’t wait to tell you about what Dasia does at school. I love having her in my class because she is such a kind friend! We have a very shy girl in the room, and every day Dasia makes a point of sitting by her. When it is time to choose partners for games, Dasia makes sure this friend has a partner every time. I love how she looks out for others!

Show growth (and next steps).

One of the most exciting parts about teaching preschool, kindergarten or first grade is the amazing growth these students make! It is more noticeable in these early years than it is at any other age. So take advantage of this excitement and share it with parents!

Prepare conference notes in advance.

To help prepare for what to say at parent teacher conferences, you might fill out a little sheet for each child, highlighting their growth in literacy, math, and social/emotional learning. Think about each “content area” and ways the child has grown (or strengths) in each area. Then think of one or two next steps based on the child’s current performance. (These comments may be similar for a number of students – but tailoring them to individuals a bit is another way to show parents you know their child.)

Photo of part of a sheet with conference notes that state students name, social/emotional celebrations and next steps, then reading writing celebrations and next steps.

Click here to get this form for free!

Talk about social and emotional growth.

You might start this part of the conference with social and emotional growth and adjustment. This is a big concern for most parents and they are better able to listen to the rest of the conference once you address how the child is fitting into the classroom. Parents wonder: Does she cry after drop-off? Does he push on the playground? Does she have someone to play with? Is he too bossy? Does she participate? (For some parents, you will just need one sentence about how well the child has adjusted to school and is kind and helpful to everyone. Parents are instantly reassured!)

Addressing social and emotional growth is especially important for a child who had a rough start to the year. You may have contacted parents earlier in the year. Share how things have changed since that point. You can highlight improvements in turn-taking, participation, willingness to work, coping strategies, etc. 

Your sharing might sound like this:

I know we talked earlier in the year about Dylan’s tendency to hit classmates when things didn’t go his way. Thank you for discussing that with him at home and reading some books about being a good friend. At school I have helped him practice using words to describe his feelings – we’ve even acted it out briefly during choice time. I have noticed him stopping and saying “I’m mad!” a few different times, which gives me time to prompt him to take a quick break from the situation. This is great growth in a short time! As he becomes more consistent with stating his feelings, I will help him talk with his classmates about WHY he is mad. This will help the group work out a way to fix the problem.

Talk about academic growth.

Once you have addressed the social and emotional learning, you can move into academics. Use work examples whenever you can. I prefer student-originated work over worksheets and tests as often as possible. It provides a clearer picture of the child’s independent work, while highlighting bits of his personality as well.

You might start this portion of the conference with sharing a self-portrait or other drawing sample – one from the beginning of the year and a recent one. Drawing samples represent growth in fine motor skills – and generally bring a smile to a parent’s face. I gather self-portraits (and number writing and letter writing samples) into a little portfolio/memory book that goes home at the end of the year.

Monthly portrait can be shown at conferences and compiled into a memory book.

Drawing samples segue nicely into writing. It is easy to use writing samples to show a student’s growth. In the example below, you might show a writing sample from the beginning of the year, then show a sample from the last week. Describe for parents what you see in the writing – both the conventions (spelling, spacing, puncutation) and the content (organization, details, sentence variety.)

Here’s what a bit of this might sound like:

Leo has improved SO much in his writing. When kindergarten started he was able to write his name on the paper, draw a picture and write the word “I,” to start his sentence about what he did. But just look at this story! After he finished drawing, he wrote “I WT to BsBLGM.” (I went to the baseball game.) He wrote a story to match his picture, spelled two words that he knows exactly right, and wrote the beginning and ending sounds for the other words. He even used spaces to separate some of his words!

As he keeps writing, we’ll work on telling a bit more about the story – like which game or something he saw at the game. We’ll also keep working on learning to spell more common words correctly, and hearing middle sounds in words. 

Use a similar technique for math and reading – describe the begining of the year work compared to recent work. For math, you might show changes in number writing or making patterns. You could even use videos of the child counting or reading (beginning of the year vs. now). This allows parents to see and hear the change.

Show growth with number writing samples from various points of the year. These can also be added to a portfolio.

Show reading growth.

Reading progress can be harder to show with just a sheet of paper. If you are working with kids who have started reading, you can show a book that they could read at the beginning of the year and a book they can read now. Then note changes in reading behaviors that you’ve noticed. For instance, in first grade you might say:

When the year started, Michael was reading very simple and repetitive books. Most pages had only 2-3 lines of print and most words were the same on every page. But look at the kind of book Michael can read now! The book has 5-6 lines of print per page, and doesn’t really have a pattern. I notice that he reads many high frequency words quickly and automatically, both on flashcards and in books. He is also able to break short words to help him read them – words like f-an. Next we’ll keep learning new high frequency words, and we’ll work on breaking more complex words, like f-ish or ch-ip. I’ll also have him practice using a bit of expression when characters are talking, especially when he rereads books.

For children who are not yet reading, you might share how their rhyming has improved (sharing a few verbal examples), show how handwriting has changed, or talk about how many more letters the child can name.

By showing work samples and describing what the child has done in the work sample, you are helping parents to better understand their child’s growth. At the same time, you are helping them to learn more about the learning progressions for students at this age.

Sidenote: What do you say if you are concerned with the child’s progress?

It’s still important to show how the student has grown. I have yet to meet a child who has made zero growth in any area during several months of school – you just might have to look at the work differently. For instance, the child may now be able to count to 7 independently (rather than 3), or may be able to write his name without looking at a name card. Even though the child is not at the expected benchmark, there is still growth. 

But it is also important to let parents know that you are concerned about the child’s learning. If you suspect that the parent is already aware of that, you can simply confirm their thoughts.

As you mentioned, Heidi is having a harder time learning letter names than her brother did at this age. We would hope that kids would recognize 20 letters at this time of year, but Heidi only knows 12. Because she’s having a harder time, this is what I’m doing in the classroom to give her extra support…

If the parents seem unaware of the child’s challenges, it might help to have a few samples of work from a typical student to show in comparison – a writing sample, drawing sample, etc. After sharing how the child has grown you might add a small statement like this:

Codi has made some great growth so far this year. However, she is still behind where we would want her to be. Here’s a quick peek at a typical writing sample for a first grader at this time of year.

Point out a couple of differences between their child’s performance and the typical performance, then move on. You might repeat this with text levels, drawing samples, etc., but keep it short, compassionate and proactive. Outline 1-2 next steps at school, 1-2 suggestions for home, and respond to any parent questions or concerns. 

Send them off on a positive note.

When planning what to say at parent teacher conferences, prepare a way to end on a positive note. You could tell why you love having the child in your class, highlight an overall strength, or a special connection you have with the child.

Here’s what it might sound like:

It’s so fun having Toby in my class! Every day he rushes in and can’t wait to tell me some exciting news from his life. I love hearing the stories about how he entertains his little brothers every evening. He certainly seems to look out for them! And I love his enthusiasm for life! He is full of energy and excitment when he tells those stories – his enthusiasm just makes teaching him so much fun!

This will again reiterate to parents that you do truly know (and appreciate) their child. Ending on a positive note is especially important in conferences where you had to share some hard news. This reassures parents that you treasure their child like they do – and you can see the child’s strengths despite the challenges. 

So as you think about what to say at parent teacher conferences, use my FREE conference forms and keep these three simple tips in mind:

  • Show that you know the child.
  • Show growth (and next steps).
  • Send them off on a positive note.

Then gather all your work samples to create a special monthly memory book and portfolio to document each child’s growth all year!

These tips will demonstrate to parents that you know and love their child, just they way he/she is! That is key to having a successful parent teacher conference.

Text: What to Say at Parent Teacher Conferences. Photo: pink conference form with notes about a student.

Looking for ways to get to know your students a bit better before conferences? A soft start to your school day allows you time to observe students interacting with peers and engaging in favorite activities. As another idea, a question of the day allows you to learn a bit more about each child’s personal interests and experiences. Information from both of these activities can inform your confernce conversations with parents.

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