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Making teamwork work

Engaging Conferences: Elevating Parent-Teacher Meetings through Collaboration

A lot has changed in America’s classrooms over the last decade.

New technology and better-informed teaching philosophies make it easier for teachers to develop personalized learning for students. New research proves the vital role that parents play in student success.

Despite emerging tools and knowledge, one annual school tradition remains stubbornly stuck in the past: parent-teacher conferences.

In districts across the country, teachers meet with parents much the same way they did 20, 30, even 50 years ago—through private, one-on-one meetings without the student, and focused almost exclusively on grades and discipline.

Now, there is a growing movement to reshape parent-teacher conferences—to shift the focus away from basic reporting to roll-up-your-sleeves collaboration between teachers, parents, and students.

A team effort

More than 600 schools in 22 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a new model for parent-teacher meetings called Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT).

According to former classroom teacher Maria Parades, who created the approach, the optimum word in her model is team. As Parades tells the Washington Post for a recent story, “The traditional parent-teacher conference is isolationist. It is me and the teacher, maybe my child, and I don’t hear about anyone else in the class.”

Parades and other educators wanted to explore new ways for teachers and parents to communicate. They think a more collaborative, team-based setting will spur new ways of thinking and create a network of support for parents and students.

For some other new parent-teacher conference ideas, read Let students lead: The new parent-teacher conference

Each year in schools that follow the APTT protocol, teachers meet with all of their students’ parents in one room three separate times throughout the year. They then present overall progress data for the class that parents can compare to their student’s achievements. This helps them see where their student might need to focus more attention.

Parents are also shown activities and games they can use at home to help build upon their child’s classroom learning.

At a June meeting at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Sarah Zick and her fellow teachers hand out plastic bags filled with games and learning materials that parents and students can use to help prevent summer slide. Teachers from Tubman also perform at least one summer home visit to kick-off the collaboration for the following school year.

According to Zick, teamwork among parents and teachers, as well as parents and other parents, is vital to student success.

As she told the Washington Post:

“We are working on it at school, but we can’t make progress without working on it at home. They really fly when they are getting it from both places—when they are reading every day at school and they are reading at home, and it clicks and comes together.”

Motivated teachers

If you’re considering adopting a more collaborative parent-teacher approach in your schools, APTT advocates caution that a top-down edict is not the answer. It requires committed administrators and teachers who are invested in the concept and willing to give their time for it to work.

Harriet Tubman Principal Amanda Delebar tells the Washington Post that finding motivated teachers starts with the hiring process:

“When we hire teachers, we explain that we do home visits, and we do things differently for our parent-teacher conferences. This is required, and if you aren’t interested in that, that’s okay, but we tell you upfront.”

For schools like Tubman, which serves a low-income community where more than half of parents are not native English speakers, a motivated, collaborative faculty is key to stronger parent participation.

In the years since Delebar’s school implemented its new collaborative meeting approach, parent participation has increased from 25 percent of parents and families to 90 percent.

What are your thoughts on a more collaborative approach to parent-teacher conferences? Is your district testing new ideas to increase parent engagement and participation at school? Tell us in the comments.