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Parent-teacher conferences - who needs 'em?

Instead of dedicating two evenings and a full day to conferences this fall, Westwood Middle School teachers are holding weekly office hours, calling, emailing or meeting with parents during that time, as well as making themselves available for face-to-face meetings on specific dates in October (from 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 14 and 4-8 p.m. Oct. 20), February and April. Westwood Middle School to ditch traditional conferences, Oct 12, 2015

I have always dreaded parent-teacher conferences. As a child, I remember putting nails under the tires of my parents' car, hoping they would get a flat tire that would keep them from the conferences where I was sure my teacher would tell them every horrible thing I had done in school that year. While I never remember my folks coming home with bad reports, the conferences still made me very nervous. I never ranked high on "comportment" or "effort" though my test scores were always pretty good. Hmmmm.

Anyway, the article above talks about one district scrapping the traditional twice-annual ritual of parents and teachers (and sometimes kids) meeting to discuss student achievement, behavior, and who knows what. In my former district, one of our strategic plan's metrics was the percentage of parents participating in P/T conferences. But as we joked as teachers, the parents who didn't need to be there were the ones who showed up; the parents who we really wanted to talk to were nowhere to be seen.

I argued that given the access to their children's data through parent portals into the student information systems (grades, attendance, discipline, assignments, etc.) attending a F2F P/T conference wasn't as important as it may once have been. How many of us visit a banker or investment counselor or read our monthly bank or investment statements when we can monitor our accounts in real time, online? Does it make sense for either a parent or teacher who wants parents as a partners to wait until a quarter of the school year is gone to communicate?

To me, real-time access, whether online, telephone calls, or as-needed conferences with a specific purpose, are far more beneficial than the tables in gym a couple times a year.

Shouldn't we be differentiating and personalizing parent education as well as student education?

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Reader Comments (3)

Agreed - two additional thoughts:
1. There is a good chance that a student''s grade will change between the last grade period and the parent conference. Since that should be posted online, the parent can view that at any time.
2. Unless we have conferences late in the evening or on weekends, I'll never see every parent. I am comfortable emailing parents.

October 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I think this may depend more on the age of the student. I think when students have many different teachers in middle and high school it doesn't make sense to try to meet with all of them. However, in elementary school when students have one teacher for most of the day it is a chance to communicate about things that aren't on the report card. How are they getting along with other kids, what may be challenging them, where they are excelling, etc. This can be in an email, but I valued this face to face meeting as a teacher and now that I am about to have my first conference as a parent I value it as a parent. Meeting in person allows more back and forth as well as clarity in your message with tone and body language and a chance to pick up on concerns and hopes parents don't put into an email.

October 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCatharine

Hi Kenn,

I do think that having parents access student info like grades and assignment scores etc., also forces teachers to assess and report in a timely fashion. Getting test results back days if not weeks after the unit is over, isn't very helpful.

Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful comment,


Hi Catharine,

You make a great point. I was thinking more about access for parents of HS/MS students. I am hoping that elementary teachers will have more to comment on and appraise that simply test scores and learning objective met. And I like your comment about body language as well.

Thank you,


October 15, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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