How to have Successful Virtual Parent-Teacher ConferencesJun 22, 2021
So, this past school year, I think we learned a lot about what doesn’t work online and what does. One thing I LOVED was having parent/teacher conferences online. Not only was it more convenient for me, but it was way more convenient for families as well and I saw a lot more families because of this.
Here are all of my recommendations for continuing to use the virtual space for conferences:
Starting the conference
- Before you even start running all of your conferences, you will want to set up the message that parents see when they are in the waiting room. I work in Zoom, so to do this, you would go to the Zoom website and change the waiting room message in settings. I usually have a message that says something like this:
“Welcome to conferences with Mrs. Eggers! I am so excited to chat with you. I am currently finishing up with the family that was before you so please wait patiently. If you still have not been let into the meeting and it is 5 minutes past your scheduled time, please email me at [[email protected]].”
- For each conference, I would have a family come into the Zoom waiting room and wait for me to let them in. This is great so that you don’t have families popping in while you are in the middle of meeting another family, but it also gives you a minute to prep too. I can usually recognize whose parent it is (half the time they are using the kid’s zoom account to join the meeting) and then I take a minute to pull up their grade book and attendance and then do a quick Google Drive search for anything that student shared with me that I may be able to use to show them an example of the student’s work. Then, I have everything ready for that specific meeting and family.
- When you have let them in and are greeting them, be sure that you don’t just dive into the bad news right away. I had a coworker seriously piss off a mom because the first thing she said when they sat down was, “So, [student], where is all the missing work that you owe me?” The mom got furious and walked out. (and I don’t entirely blame her for doing so.) So, start the meetings on a kind note and ask how things are going, whether it is an online conference or not. It will go a long way and you might find that other things are going on that have nothing to do with academics. (like in my story, the family was dealing with homelessness and mom was working multiple jobs just to feed and clothe them all. Missing assignments was not really her priority at that second.)
Things to focus on
- Like I said about the greeting, try to not just focus on grades. Talk about the child’s demeanor and work ethic. They can be the hardest worker in the room and their grades may not reflect that. Or they may have B’s but are turning in half-assed assignments.
- Start with the child’s strengths and then if there are any issues bring them up in the middle (This SHOULD NOT be the first time the parent is hearing about these issues so it shouldn’t be a total surprise to them. Hopefully, you have emailed them and communicated with them frequently about any problems. If not, present it gently. If you need help communicating these things, check out my Online Teacher Email Swipe Files! They are like Mad-Libs for emails home to families!)
- If the parents really want to look at grades, then do that. Go with the flow of the conversation. I would recommend bringing up the grade book and sharing your screen with them so they can see it all and discuss the ones that concern them.
Ending the Conference
- Always do the compliment sandwich. Start with kindness and something good about their child, hit the things they need to work on in the middle, and end with more praise and compliments. I would also take this a step further by discussing what you want to see the student work on moving forward (either academically, behaviorally, or otherwise) and how we can all work to support their student in that goal.
- There is also this super awkward goodbye that happens on zoom where you say your goodbyes and then you are sitting there staring at each other while they try to find the exit button and all that. Usually, I just smile big and giggle but you can remove them and that is okay.
- If the parent just won’t let the meeting end, (we all know that crazy talkative parent that just won’t be done and seems to have no perception of time) let them know you have another family waiting and you need to wrap it up, but that you can schedule some more time to chat with them another time.
As you can see, a lot of these tips can be used for in-person conferences or online ones. The main takeaway is that you should be focused on kindness and remember that you are all a part of the same team that is trying to help the student succeed. And if you need some support communicating with families, check out the Online Teacher Email Swipe Files! (really, they are perfect for any kind of teacher) There are tons of templates for all sorts of scenarios!