I tweeted, “Why don’t parents attend parent-teacher conferences?” It was a serious question that I have been wondering about for quite some time. It is on my mind even more as we approach our first parent-teacher conferences. In the past two weeks, we have made available sign-in sheets for parents to schedule time with their children’s teachers. We will run parent-teacher conferences from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. If parents are unable to make that time, they are encouraged to schedule time after conferences with their children’s teachers. With two weeks advance notice to sign up and the date that was scheduled and sent in July, we have less than 30% of parents who have signed up. Again, I’m at a loss for why parents do not make the time. As with most engaging topics, Twitter provided good insight and suggestions.
The first suggestion was doing them on a Saturday. Well, of course, I have. A couple of years back, I sent a survey to parents asking how we can make parent-teacher conferences more convenient for them. Within the few returned responses, there were many that Saturday parent-teacher conferences would work better for parents. I get it. For the many families our school serves, it is tough getting off work during the middle of the day or at a decent time to meet with their children’s teachers. Saturday would probably work as many of them do not have to work on the weekends. There is just a slight problem with Saturday. Saturday may work for many parents, but it does not work for our teachers. Even though it is just one Saturday, it will be difficult to get teachers who just worked a long week to come in on a Saturday to meet with parents. The person on Twitter suggested that I compensate the teachers for their time. His suggestions were the following: give teachers jean days, cut their staff meeting to compensate, offer free babysitting, and remind them it isn’t about them. I believe all those are great and valid suggestions, but I wonder will it be enough to get teachers in on a Saturday.
Another comment on why parents did not attend was there isn’t enough time allotted for the conferences. One follower said her son’s school only allowed 5 minutes per block for parents. What can really be accomplished in five minutes outside of simple greetings and introductions? We do allow 15 minutes, and we try to keep the meetings scripted. I train my teachers to stay on topic to ensure all vital information gets covered. Often times in parent-teacher conferences, you can go down a rabbit hole that is difficult to get out, and you spend 30 minutes to 45 minutes just shooting the breeze. We have found that 15 minutes scripted allows for the teacher to pass along important information and allows for the parents to ask any questions they have.
Another suggestion was to allow for phone conferences. I get why that would be a suggestion, but I feel the entire purpose of parent-teacher conferences is for there to be the face to face interaction between parent and teacher. On the phone, it is difficult because often time the teacher or the parent is doing something else while the other person is talking. Typically, over the phone, the parent does not have the report card in front of them or the work the teacher may be referencing. How are phone conferences any different than any other conferences? It is not a parent-teacher conference.
As we embark on another round of parent-teacher conferences, it is my hope that on the first day, we have at least 80% of parents represented during conferences. It is important teachers own these conferences for their individual classrooms. What I have seen work successfully is when teachers own getting parents to attend, then you see parents attend. I also know the work of getting parents to attend parent-teacher conferences begins as soon as school starts. The relationship must be built and established early on. Now, for the parents who still do not attend, I would love to know what gets to them to come out and attend.