So what do parents want when they come to conferences? As I sat at conferences last night and watched parents navigate the maze, I had time to consider and observe.
They want a clean, well-lighted environment that is safe and easy to navigate. Part of that starts with being greeted as soon as they come into the building. The plan for the evening should be immediately evident.
That plan is communicated with great signage and a good map of what’s going on. It shouldn’t be a mystery or a treasure hunt when navigating the evening. Talking with the desired teachers should be easy to do.
Shepherding the thinking of parents is almost a professional obligation. Educators think about learning and school and graduation every day. Parents think about their kids every day but not from the same perspective.
There are distinct tasks, questions, and concerns with each year of high school. I imagine parents welcoming a document that they can read as they stand in line to speak to teachers. Here are a couple of ideas of what might be included in that document:
Great questions to ask teachers
Great questions to ask counselors
Things to consider when planning the rest of their high school career.
A “To Do” list for the next 6 months
Important dates for the remainder of the year
If Walt Disney was doing parent/teacher conferences, there would be a host at critical junctions to address that next question. People would be cared for and guided through the entire process. Now, I don’t think conferences need to be a dog and pony show; however, logistical competence can alter a parent’s perspective of a school and enhance the school’s reputation.
If the parents feel valued and cared for as they enter the building, lines of communication open up, legitimacy increases, and the school wins.
Too often, from an educator’s perspective, it feels like a task. It’s a long night of sitting in a chair and not enough parents showing up. But wait a minutes! Even if only 1/3 of parents show up (this year we hit 49%), what kind of impact can a well-done conference have on those students, the parent’s perspective of the school, the vote they might case next year, or their attitude as they call the school with a problem next week.
What if the day after parent/teacher conferences a parent opens up the lunch-time conversation with, “I had an amazing night at parent teacher conferences last night.” Sounds kind of crazy, but with some planning it certainly seems possible.