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Tips for Terrific Parent Conferences

Tips for Terrific Parent Conferences

November 26, 2019 15 min read

Are parent conferences coming soon? Whether you are a special educator in a resource, inclusion, or self-contained setting, this episode has tons of tips and ideas to make parent conference week go by as smoothly as possible.

The first half focuses on self-contained teachers holding conferences in their classrooms. Then the second half is for resource/inclusion teachers who need to attend conferences in a variety of general ed classes all over the school.

In addition, the scheduling strategy described might also work for RTI or SST teachers, literacy coaches or administrators who need to attend conferences in many grades and classes. Some of the topics include:

  • Scheduling
  • What to say to parents/guardians
  • How get parents to attend
  • How the student can participate (not quite a student-led conference, but our students with special needs can definitely participate!)
  • Keep organized
  • Teacher and parent reminders

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Show Notes

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Links and Resources

Podcast Host: Lisa Goodell

Lisa Goodell, M.A., launched the “Help for Special Educators” Podcast on April 1, 2019. She has taught for over 24 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings.

Lisa has a master’s degree in special education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials. She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary (2014) and secondary level (1994). She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect with Lisa here. You can also get more information by listening to the beginning of Episode 1.

Transcript*

[00:00:00] Episode 19: Tips for Terrific Parent Conferences.

Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water? Waves of IEPs, data collection, assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you. You need help, but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the Help for Special Educators podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding, but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.

Welcome to this episode of the Help for Special Educators podcast. This week’s focus is going to be tips for having terrific parent conferences. I’m going to first talk about parent conferences in a self-contained class. And then I will talk about parent conference tips if you are a resource or inclusion teacher.

Self-Contained Classes

I have a whole list of tips here, so let’s just start with if you are having parent conferences in a self-contained class.  (And in California, that would be like an SDC or a special day class). So number one, besides sending home the date and time for the conference ahead of time, maybe you do that one or two weeks ahead of time, also send home reminders closer to the actual day. You might send home paper notes, or you might send home texts. If you talk to your parents that way you might use a special app, like the remind app or class dojo to do that.

Maybe you send an email, however you normally communicate with parents do that the day before, and maybe even on the actual day of the conference, make sure to talk about the conferences in class, make a big deal about whose conferences coming up tomorrow. Maybe you post them up on the wall. If you make the students feel special, they will feel like a star of the day and they will try to get their parents to come to the conference.

Number two, provide an incentive for parent and student. Now food is a primary reinforcement. So you can think about store bought cookies, mini candy bars, et cetera, but for just students, maybe think about stickers, class coupons, or class money or points. Be sure to mention this on the reminder form or text that you send home.

Tip number three, be sure to have parents and guardians sign up on a simple sign in sheet. When they come to your class, you can get a free one by going to the show notes for this podcast and downloading it. I have like my most embarrassing teaching moment ever that happened because I did not have a sign in sheet. It was so embarrassing.

Tip number four, involve the student by having him or her do something during the parent conference. [00:03:00] So this is great, whether your school does student led conference this or not. Some of these ideas I’ve tried to think of are good for students who have a harder time to communicate. Instead of having to explain a lot of things, maybe they can demonstrate something in the classroom. So I’m going to give you a list of things right now, but just know that if time is a factor, Then you can always take a short video clip during class time of the student doing one of these ideas or a different idea you come up with and then show that to the parent at the conference. (Remember to adapt these ideas for your students’ ability level.)

  • So, my first idea is pick a GoNoodle video to sing and dance for parents. How fun is that?
  • Second idea is show parents some work they’ve done, and this could be something printed out that they do handwriting on, or it could be something like technology. Maybe they’ve made a Google slides presentation, or maybe they go through and show them how they do something on Starfall or Epic websites.
  • Another idea would be for them to give their parents a craft that they have completed in class, or maybe writing them a little letter or having them draw a picture that goes with a letter that they dictated to you.
  • And another idea would be for them to show their favorite work task or internet app.

So that was all for tip number four involving the student.

So now tip number five is have a [00:04:30] simple PowerPoint with an agenda showing for everyone to see, to keep you and the parent on task. And that also helps you to remember to cover everything.

It’s like those announcements you might have to remember to say at the very end of your conference. You don’t want to forget those. One thing that I would do, I always had a slide that said “Toys cannot come to school.” Toys will be put on time out at school, and that jewelry can be toys.   Another slide would be asking for donations if you need more glue sticks or Kleenex or hand sanitizer.

Number six. What to talk about? When I taught self-contained classes, I did not have to make a report card for my students, but I did need to update all the goals and print out the computer-generated IEP progress report. And I also had to complete a behavior and character sheets.

Those also had to be turned into the administration with the same due date as regular a teacher for their report cards. If you have no idea what to go over, go over IEP goals, go over behavior character, and then review rules and expectations for the classroom as needed. Now at the first quarter conference, I also discuss home visits that I would be starting that week or the following week.

And if you’re interested in doing home visits, they’re super fun. They weren’t to have a meeting with the parent. It’s totally to play with the kids, see their life, let them [00:06:00] share with me their pets, their favorite things to do. And that just fostered a great relationship with the students. And also with the families later in the year.

So, if you’re interested in that, I have a blog post that I linked to on the show notes.

Tip number seven, I had the student’s IEP folder handy in case there was ever a question I’d always have it sitting next to me at the table so I could look in it if necessary. And I would also use it to remind when the student’s next IEP would be. For example, I might say, okay, look, your child’s next annual IEP is going to be in March. So I will be sending home the meeting notice probably in the middle or late February. Another thing, if your student has an IEP right around parent conference time, I do not recommend having the IEP meeting during parent conferences. Usually IEP meetings are much longer and having one then can throw off the rest of the schedule for your conferences. And also you must have a regular ed teacher come to the conference and that can mess up their schedules because even if you tell them to plan on the meeting, taking an hour, they might forget and still schedule in other parent conferences.

Also with general ed teachers, if they have large classes, like 30, 35 students, it’s really hard to get all of those parent conferences in, especially if you only have three days, or four days to do it. Sometimes schools do give a week to do them. But I just find that it’s more respectful to the general ed teachers, if you can, at all avoid IEPs during parent conference week.

Resource Classes

So now let’s move into the [00:07:30] second part of our podcast today, which is going to be focusing on tips for parent conferences if you are a resource teacher and you primarily teach students who spend their time in general ed classes, (which would be RSP or resource specialists in California), or sometimes it’s just called resource programs, or you might be an inclusion teacher and intervention teacher, a literacy coach, etc, then these tips would apply to you.

I was in shock a little, my first year when I was a resource teacher, when my principal told me she expected me to attend the parent conference of all 28 of my students in their general ed classes. I don’t know if you’ve had to do that or not. However, I did. And I thought that was just kind of a crazy kind of overwhelming thing to even think about… running back and forth across the whole school, trying to get to conferences, kids in all different grade levels and trying to coordinate with the schedules of general ed teachers and with the schedules of parents, (because it could literally take me seven minutes to walk from one part of the school to the next.)

So after I thought about this a bit, and I talked to the principal, she granted my request to be able to schedule my conferences first. So after I made my schedule, I emailed it to all the teachers and staff. I put a hard copy in the teachers’boxes if they had my students, then also announced it at a staff meeting.

Now I still emailed it to all the teachers, just in [00:09:00] case there was something I overlooked as far as siblings or that type of thing. Now the editable forms and teacher letters that I’ve used to do. This are available in my TPT store, in my IEP binder, editable forms resource. And you can edit those on word and also on Google slides.

So, let me describe the process of how I did this. So, number one, I tried not to schedule conferences with parents, for students who would be having an IEP within a month before or after the conferences. You can always check to make sure that that’s okay with parents and the teacher, but not having to have conferences for those kids really helped lighten the load for conference week for both you and general ed teachers too.

I also tried not to have any actual IEP during the conference week. They always take too much time when there’s only 20 minutes or so, maybe even 15 at some schools for conferences. However, if you really have to have an IEP meeting, make sure the teachers know they have to block out at least an hour for it.

Especially, if it has to be translated into a different language, number three, in the weeks leading up to conferences, I would try to check in with them and say, okay, is it still this time? Are we still good? Or did anything change? And even with all those reminders, they would still forget to tell me. And so I might show up for a conference and then they said, “Oh, we already had it. They came an hour early.” And if that happens, that happens. But I did my best.

Number four. I would [00:10:30] find out if my students had siblings, because it’s always better if a parent can have all their children’s conferences, the same day.

Number five, I also found out which kids needed an interpreter and asked those teachers which day of the week they had an interpreter assigned to them. If they didn’t already have one assigned to them, usually they would pick a day as we talked. And then that would be the day that they chose to have an interpreter.

Number six. I only started to make my schedule after I did numbers one through five, even with the above factors, I tried to schedule meetings that were in classes near each other on the same day.

At this particular California school, there were five long buildings of classrooms. And then there was a large playground and there were two more rows of classes way on the other side, which had been in middle school many decades ago. So I would not have been able to keep up if I had to criss-cross the campus to get to the next class in time.

Number seven, remember to touch base with teachers the week before conferences to find out if there are any changes, because there will always be changes.

Number eight, remind teachers the day before as well. The first time I didn’t do this, but two or three teachers still forgot to let me know of changes or cancellations, and we don’t want that to happen.

Number nine, on conference day, put the student IEP files in order of your meetings in a rolling cart so you can just take them all to each meeting. I always had a student IEP folder as a backup in case something came up, remind teachers that you are [00:12:00] attending many conferences each day and that they need to go ahead and get started if you are not there right on time.

Number ten. When you do get into your conference, you want to keep your parts simple because the regular teacher probably has a lot of things they’re trying to squeeze in that time. So this is what I would do for my part of the conference.

  • First, I always started with a compliment for the student.
  • Second, I gave a copy of the IEP progress report to both the parent and the teacher.
  • I’d have the current progress update highlighted so I could review it quickly.
  • I would give the parent any student work samples I had. And then that was it.
  • The only other thing I would do would be to remind them of when the next annual or triennial IEP due date was so they would have a heads up.
  • And then I would excuse myself, even if the meeting wasn’t over to go on to the next meeting, unless I had a little bit of time, or if the parent had questions.

So those are a few things under Number 10.

Now, number 11, keep a notepad with you to take notes on anything you need to follow up on. Either with the parent child or teacher, I found it was better to keep that all on one piece of paper. However, you could also make notes on your copy of each student’s progress report.

So, whether you’re a self-contained teacher or a resource teacher, working with students that spend more time in general, ed, I hope all these ideas will help you to have a great parent conference. Sweet. Let me know what you think. If you have any [00:13:30] questions, you can email me that helpforspecialeducators@gmail.com. And if you have your own ideas to share, you can share those with me as well.

School-Wide Scheduling to Help Parents

The last thing I want to touch on is to just go into a little bit more detail on how my school scheduled their parent conferences overall. Now at the school I was at, at the time, would schedule parent conferences like this. The teachers would have their class list and they found out which students in their class had siblings at the school, and they would also know which parents needed a translator. So then they would get together in the teacher’s room and it would just kind of be a “free for all.” They would be finding the teachers of the siblings of their students so that they could coordinate the parent conferences so the parents could come just one time to the school and have all the parent conferences in succession. So parents wouldn’t have to go back and forth to school all week long.  

I always figured out my list ahead of time before this meeting.  I scheduled everyone out and then I would contact the teachers by putting a note in their box and also announcing it at a staff meeting that they needed to look on the list. If they had one of my students, then they needed to make sure that the date and time I gave them had high priority as they scheduled the rest of their parent conferences.

There, you have it, my ideas and tips for having a successful week of parent conferences when you [00:15:00] teach either resource or self-contained.

I know that parent conferences can be really stressful…Well for teachers and also probably for parents. So I hope these ideas help you to be prepared and organized ahead of time. So that next time you have parent conferences, they go as smoothly as possible.

Thank you so much for listening and talking to your friends about the show. I would also ask, if you’ve listened to one or two episodes or more of the show, would you please go into Apple podcast and leave a review for the show? It would mean so much, and it would really help get this podcast out to more people.

And to give you an incentive to do this, anyone who leaves a rating and a review on Apple podcasts. Will not only get your review shared on here, but I will pick one or two people to send special swag in the mail from the podcast as always, if you have ideas or if you would like to be a guest on the show, please contact me at helpforspecial educators@gmail.com. You can also connect with me on social media. My handle on Instagram is @Lisagoodellequip. You can find the show notes for this episode and all the others at https://lisagoodell.com/podcast. You can also connect to my blog on my website, Lisagoodell.com.

Now when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the serenity prayer aloud or in my head here it is. God grant me the serenity to accept the things. I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s the sample for us special educators, help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words. Actions and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive.

After that I try to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you heard something [00:18:00] helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember? You are amazing what you do makes a difference and don’t let anyone tell you, otherwise, go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing too.

*Note: An artificial intelligence transcription service converted the audio file of this podcast episode into the written words below. The file is mostly accurate, however, be aware that spoken words and conversations are not the same as a conversation in a novel. This means that will be some inaccuracies or accidental errors (i.e. missing punctuation, missing words, etc.). I do proofread it and correct some things, but thank you for your patience and grace since I’m sure there are parts that the AI and I both miss.

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