CORAdvantage Blog Classroom Tips

Tips for Successful Family Conferences

By Maranda VanDeWiele | October 14, 2019

Family conferences are a crucial tool for strengthening family-school partnerships. Yet, in order to be successful, they require preparation and thoughtful planning. 

Before the Conference 

1. Schedule flexibly and send a reminder

It can be difficult for families to get to conferences, so when possible, provide different times of the day and on several dates far enough in advance that families can make the necessary arrangements to be present. Remind families before the conference, and send them the agenda that will be guiding your conversation to establish what will be discussed. 

2. Create an efficient agenda and prepare materials

Conferences can be short – sometimes even just 15 minutes long! Having an agenda grounded in learning standards is a crucial step to maximizing time. Think of yourself as a researcher presenting your data. Bring anecdotes that will both warm the family’s heart and help them connect with the learning that their child is doing in the classroom. If you’re using COR Advantage, you can find these learning moments collected into a child’s portfolio. 

Leave room for families to ask questions and express concerns and be sure to prepare the questions you will want to ask each family. Finally, leave time to take notes for follow-ups and action items. 

3. Set up a nurturing environment 

Create a calming and nurturing environment with soft-lighting if possible. Try keeping a box of tissues on the table, and bring pens for all to use. If you have bilingual parents, be prepared with a translation app. Have a waiting area outside of the conference room for folks who arrive early. And don’t forget your own self-care! Make sure to bring water or coffee and keep snacks for between conferences, for you and for families!

During the Conference

1. Cultivate connections with families and build trust

This starts with empathy. Welcome families warmly, create space, and express gratitude that they have joined you and are willing to participate in their child’s learning. Families often take time out of their work day and busy schedules to join for the conference. Help families to feel welcome so that you can establish a connection that will last the whole school year. This connection lays the groundwork for open, honest communication and collaboration as you are both active participants in the growth and development of the child. This partnership ensures the student receives all of the resources they need to thrive and is on the path to school readiness. 

2. Provide the good with the “bad” 

It can be uncomfortable and even personal for parents and guardians to digest information about their child’s behavioral issues, or to hear that they are working to improve in an area of their development. In an age where we strive for perfection, we forget how important it is to let our children make “mistakes” and how normal it is for them to have tantrums, to fight or not want to share. Remind families that these are normal behaviors and tell them what you are doing at school to scaffold their development in these areas. Provide families with strategies for how they can help at home. Bring articles or excerpts that they can take home for reference. 

For every “area for growth,” provide an “area of strength.” Present anecdotes that highlight the child’s strengths and talk about what you are doing to nurture those strengths. 

After the Conference 

1. Organize your action items and follow ups

Make sure to file notes from the conference as soon as it has come to a close. Document your take-aways from the meetings so you can revisit them in between conferences or up until the end of the year. These takeaways can help you to thoughtfully craft lesson plans that are designed to cover the areas of growth for the children who need it. 

2. Regularly communicate with families

Conferences are just one piece of family communication! Briefly touch base with families throughout the week to check-in and continue to strengthen the collaborative relationship that’s so important in early childhood. A quick “Hello, how’s the morning been?” is a good baseline check-in. Sending a few learning moments throughout the day or week is a great way to engage families as active participants. And acknowledging the family’s humanness by asking “how are YOU today?” can build a strong relationship and establish trust, so that next time you have a conference, your conversations can go even deeper!

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Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter

In partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter is a twice a month collection of topical research articles, tips for educators, and unique ways COR Advantage can support the documentation and communication of child development.

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About COR Advantage

COR Advantage is HighScope’s flagship observation-based assessment. COR Advantage is the leading research-backed assessment for all children from birth to kindergarten. From comprehensive planning tools to dynamic family engagement, COR Advantage offers a complete picture of child growth for schools and families.

About Maranda VanDeWiele

Maranda VanDeWiele was previously an early childhood educator at a Harvard affiliated, Reggio inspired program for five years and is now a School Ambassador at COR Advantage. She holds a BA in English and Education from the University of Massachusetts in Boston.