Even in the best of times, preparing for and attending family–teacher conferences can be stressful for both teachers and families. Now, with many children learning from home and others in programs where adult family members are not allowed to enter the building, it would be easy for the relationship between parents and teachers to become more strained than ever.
Coming together for a shared goal
However, I hope that one of the "new normals" to come from this time is a stronger family–teacher relationship, forged by the necessity of thinking in new ways about how to meet the shared goal of nurturing the child's development and learning. These strong family-teacher relationships are essential to the well-being of every child.
So, how do we now foster this relationship and reinvent the family–teacher conference? By setting mutual intentions for a respectful and supportive relationship, you can ensure that every exchange, including conferences, can take on a new feel.
Five tips for successful family-teacher conferences:
- Assume that everyone has the best of intentions when it comes to the children’s well-being. Let families know that they are valued members of a community that works together toward shared goals.
- Resist assuming the other is not doing their job as a parent or teacher. Instead, be open about that fact that teachers were not trained to teach remotely or to structure a day that requires disinfecting and social distancing. Likewise, acknowledge that you understand that families were not prepared to parent and teach their school-aged children at home every day while still managing any work commitments.
- Use open-ended questions to ask how you can support each other and how you can best meet the shared goal of supporting children's development and learning.
- Focus on what is going well, no matter how small, and thank family members for all the ways they are working to help you teach their children and assess their children's learning.
- Keep learning together! Remember this is a new situation for everyone and that we need to work together to figure out what works—and adjust as needed.
Using the time together wisely
Instead of worrying about which piece of documentation or work sample to show families during this first conference, as you may do during a typical school year, think about what it is that you and families most need right now. You may find that you want to focus on setting shared expectations and learning more about what has been working for each family. Or, you may choose to spend the time walking families through the various ways in which you will be sharing information and resources with them throughout the year to try to alleviate frustration and elevate engagement.
Try to remind families that conferences are just one way for you to communicate and that you will continue to share information frequently and learn from each other as the year goes on. Be sure to allow time for families to safely ask questions and let them know how you are using the information they have been sharing with you about their children, as this most likely will lead to even greater engagement and use of the resources you are sending home.
Establishing yourself as each family’s trusted early childhood partner—and continuing to build on that partnership throughout the year—will make every future exchange easier and more meaningful.
As is the case with children, we know that positive relationships lay a strong foundation for all future interactions.