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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Flipping Parent Conferences?

By Peter DeWitt — December 06, 2013 4 min read
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Too often parent-teacher conferences were more about who controlled the conversation instead of providing everyone with the ability to come prepared to have a proper place at the table.

Many educators are fairly tired of hearing about flipped classrooms, flipped parent communication and flipped faculty meetings. I’m sure they would prefer to take out flipped and replace it with another word. As much as the flipped method is loved by some and hated by others, it really makes a great deal of sense.

Providing students with links and resources before a classroom discussion, or to further a classroom discussion, is such a great way to deepen learning in the classroom. Flipping faculty meetings provides the same benefit to teachers and staff. And quite frankly, flipping parent communication has been one of the most unique ways I have communicated with parents over the past year and ½. Here is the last one I sent to parents before I go on my leave of absence.

But...Flipping Parent Conferences?

So...we decided to flip our parent conferences. It’s not what you think. There are no engaging videos or educational articles to watch and study before the conference. Flipping conferences is more about providing parents with what they need to be prepared for the conference.

We decided to send home all report cards before the parent-teacher conferences, and not after. I realize that many schools may already do this but for too long they didn’t. Holding report cards until parent-teacher conferences was a way to get parents to attend their conference and not cancel. Basically, teachers (many times under the guise of their school leader) held report cards hostage in order to get parents to attend. It was the carrot used to engage parents.

Our hope was that sending report cards home with a letter about them would inspire parents to review the report cards and come in with questions. This would make the parent-teacher conference more authentic. Perhaps parents would be more willing to attend if they trusted that they would not get blindsided when they enter into the conference.

A friend from high school commented on her private Facebook page that she wished she had the new Common Core report card before the conference so she didn’t have to read it, digest the information, and come up with a couple of questions in the fifteen minute conference. After I read the comment (she’s not a parent in my district) I contacted the other two elementary principals in our district and they agreed.

Parent-Teacher Discussion

Parent-teacher conferences are pretty intimidating to parents. Many times they are walking into a situation where they may or may not know their child’s teacher very well. It may be the first parent-teacher conference they have ever attended, depending on the grade of their child. Some conferences focus on one to grow on, one to go on and one to glow on...while other conferences unfortunately focus more on what children can’t do rather than what they can.

Parent-teacher conferences do not always have to be so intimidating. One way to hold a less intimidating conference with a parent is to use their child as the facilitator. Student-led conferences, which you can read more about here, are a great way to make sure that the conference is child centered.

Students get the opportunity to show their parents all the growth they have made over the quarter or trimester. Student-led conferences end with a teacher discussion where the child is present. Although they are a lot of work to set up, they’re such a great way to have the student involved in a meeting that is about them. Most parents, and their children, leave school feeling positive and more a part of the school community.

In the End

Parent-teacher conferences should not be a surprise for parents. In this day and age of technology and enhanced communication tools, most parents should attend a meeting where they will not be blindsided with bad news about their children. Unfortunately, with our present accountability system that focuses on numbers more than social-emotional learning, conferences are at risk of focusing more on what children can’t do rather than what they can.

Flipping parent conferences by sending home the report card before the conference rather than handing it to the parents at the conference is a great way to provide the parents with information that they can absorb, garner questions, and come to a meeting prepared to have authentic dialogue with their child’s teacher.

Too often parent-teacher conferences were more about who controlled the conversation instead of providing everyone with the ability to come prepared to have a proper place at the table. Sure, there will be times when the report card is lost, the parent comes unprepared, or a parent cancels or doesn’t show up, but I would venture to guess that if we treated parents like they were going to do the right thing instead of assuming they would do the wrong thing, many parents would rise to the challenge.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.