At our school we have parent conferences three times a year. It is not obligatory for all parents to sign up, so we send out a sign up schedule for observation times in the morning, and conference times right after school and parents pick whether or not to come for one or both. Usually I have about 75% of parents sign up for conferences, and 50% sign up for observations. If I have any child that is really struggling with something, I usually make sure that parent finds a time for conference.
As much as conferences represent extra effort and time in my part both during school hours and after work, they are well worth it in terms of the impact they have on the smooth running of the school. A thirty minute session (or more if necessary) to address any concerns, to give suggestions for the home, to ask for suggestions for school, and to highlight the child's strengths works wonders on both the parent/school relationship and ultimately influences the child in the classroom. The way I see it, conferences are an investment that can make my work in the classroom a lot easier (by helping the parent work WITH me).
The way that I structure conferences in general is the following:
1) Invite the parents to talk about their impressions of their observation. Clear up any questions or concerns. I usually offer a clip board with written observation guidelines and suggestions that really helps direct the parents attention while they observe. This keeps their hands off of their cel phones (believe it or not), and usually helps translate what they are seeing.
2) Ask parents if there is any subject in particular, or aspect that they'd like to focus on during the conference. Address it if they have one.
3) Go over the conference notes. These are usually a two page written "report" that highlights the child's development as follows:
- General development comments (this is where I talk about sensitive periods, transition times in development, etc.)
- Motor development (both gross and fine)
- Practical life (including bathroom, nutrition, clothing issues)
- Sensory development
- Language development (spoken, reading, writing)
- Math work
- Social Development
As I go over each topic, I try to suggest ways in which they can parallel what we do at school in the home. If the child is having difficulty in any area, I ask a lot of questions about if they see the same thing at home and if so what their response is to it.
My goal is to make the conference feel as much as possible like a conversation instead of it feeling like an evaluation in any way. I like to notice the all the areas of progress that I see, especially if there has been prior difficulties with the child. I like to think that when parents leave the conference, they feel proud and inspired about their child (at best) and that they have new ideas to work with at home (at the least).