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6 Ways Technology Can Reinvent Parent-Teacher Conferences

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We’re about a third of the way into the school year and we know what that means: The dread of parent teacher conferences! Well, okay, not dread. But conferences would not make it on my Top Ten Reasons I Like to Teach list.

Why? Too often we find ourselves repeating the same old feedback: “This is the grade. This is how they act in class. This is what they should be doing to improve.” It becomes a monotonous process. And it lacks the enthusiasm—as well as the desire to help kids own and engage in their learning—that defines us as innovative educators.

With transformative digital changes happening in classrooms today, basic learning management systems now deliver the answers to most of those well worn questions on parent portals. In other words, the traditional parent teacher conference as it once was is both redundant and outdated.

Am I suggesting we do away with conferences now that communication is instantaneous and electronic? Absolutely not! In fact, we should use this technology to our advantage and add more ways that teachers and parents can work together face-to-face in helping every student succeed. We’re already innovating in our classrooms and schools; why not make sure we’re carrying that same thinking forward into the ways we communicate with parents and foster the camaraderie and support that benefits everyone. 

I’ve come up with some suggestions for you to try ranging from simple to radical. No matter what you’re currently doing, think about setting a goal to change one aspect of your conferences this year. In no particular order:

1. Conferences are not for reporting test scores. Instead, help parents understand the intangibles not necessarily taught as curriculum—test prep skills, growth mindset attitudes, and other soft skills that will carry over to college. Give parents resources that will help them support the process of learning and motivation. These are some of my favorites:

  • TeacherVision and Education Corner—these are my go to spots for helpful articles and printable handouts to distribute to both parents and students.
  • Minecraft—a popular game that can easily be used to promote creativity, collaboration and problem solving with students that simply need a different form of instruction.
  • Credly—for simple badging, this is the place; I’ve had parents come back to me and say it’s even helped them get their kids to clean the house.
  • BloomBoard—collections of focused topics; the linked example will have parents surprised at what their little gamers are learning.

2. Make it a parent-teacher-student conference. Student-led conferences—in which the conversation is driven by the child herself—can be very successful. Asking a child to reflect on her own learning can lead to more intrinsic learning and a sense of self-achievement. Whether you already practice student-led conferences or are interested in getting started, Edutopia has a great list with examples and tips.

3. Assign some pre-work. Use a Google Form to create a survey you can send to parents. Ask them what they know about what their child is doing in class and how the year has gone so far. Leave some space for them to ask their own questions. You’ll have time to mull it all over; at the conference, you can respond thoughtfully rather than using the typical soundbites. (This is a also great way to collect contact information at the start of the year.)

4. Skype your conference. Transportation and timing can be difficult—two hours for a 15 minute conversation is something some parents can’t afford. Often times those that need to meet with us most are the same parents who have the biggest challenges in making it happen. But that time with you is crucial; it can make all the difference in how they support their child as he navigates courses or college applications. Skype in the Classroom is a free community of educators from around the world and offers a variety of resources on getting started.

5. Offer training or resource sessions. If some parents don’t understand the technology you’re using in class, pool the conference slots and have groups of parents come in for personalized training. Whether you’re in a 1:1 device environment or using a new learning management system, parents will appreciate understanding the instructional tools their kids are using in class. And you can show off your rock star teaching methods! Here are some popular topics you might cover:

  • Logging onto the school website. Demonstrate how to check grades, order spirit wear, view weekly lesson plans, and—during spring conference season—register for next year’s courses.
  • Understanding the school’s learning management system (LMS). Show parents how kids can access assignments or notes they may have missed or watch screencasts you have created.
  • Navigating the media center. Most research is done online with search engines and specific subscribed data centers. It’s not just a library anymore; many parents will and should be amazed at the scholarly materials available to their kids.

6. Create ePortfolios. No more manila folders or papers—now that would be revolutionary! Here are a couple of things to think about as you start your journey:

Sometimes small changes can make a big impact, especially when it comes to working with parents to help their students succeed in your class. Using technology to distribute information and maximize face-to-face time can help foster strong relationships. Remember, thinking innovatively doesn’t always mean big and bold or shiny and bright; the most subtle changes might just be the microscopic catalyst that gets everyone invested in your class. Happy Conferencing!


Stretch Your Learning

Rethinking parent-teacher conferences is one way you can challenge yourself to better serve your students, and stretch your own learning. For other ideas, check out these PD courses offered by Capella University. You can receive clock hours for free, or earn graduate credit for a fraction of the usual cost.*

*State regulations vary regarding salary benefits and continuing education. It is the learner’s responsibility to understand and comply with requirements for his or her state, which may include pre-approval of qualified professional development opportunities.

This article was sponsored by Capella University and not written by the EdSurge editorial staff.
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