Parent-teacher conferences can be a challenge even at the best of times. Adding technology to a virtual conference can feel like a blessing or a curse—or both. The good news is, the general purpose of a conference remains the same. You and the parents are both there to help create the best possible outcomes for the student. It’s just the format that’s a little different. We’ve put together answers to some of the biggest questions teachers have about conducting virtual parent-teacher conferences. Take a look, and remember: You’ve got this!
What’s the best way to schedule virtual parent-teacher conferences?
Some schools handle scheduling for you, while other teachers have to manage it on their own. Teachers on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group have two overall favorite scheduling tools: SignUp Genius and Calendly. (See this Facebook post and another Facebook post to hear their arguments in favor of each.) You can also go the simple route of creating a shared Google doc where parents can sign up for a time.
Regardless of how you do your scheduling for virtual parent-teacher conferences, consider allowing a little extra time for each one if this is the first time you’ve met online with parents. This will provide wiggle room to deal with technical difficulties, especially for parents who don’t regularly use video conferencing themselves.
How can I help parents navigate video conferencing?
Though many parents will be old pros at Zoom meetings by now, others will find the new technology a little daunting. Give all parents the tips and tools they need in advance so you don’t have to waste time during the conference itself. Try these ideas:
- If you’re teaching online, recommend parents use the same setup that their kids do each day for the conference. That way, you’ll know all the equipment works, the lighting is good, etc.
- Provide a step-by-step guide for signing into your virtual conference space. Include reminders to check their camera, microphone, and speakers in advance.
- If you’ve got time, consider filming a video to walk parents through the steps. One video can work for an entire school, so talk with other teachers about creating a resource that can be used by everyone going forward.
- During the conference itself, don’t waste more than a minute or so trying to resolve technical issues. If you need to fall back on a regular phone call this time around, that’s okay.
What else can I do to help parents prepare in advance?
As with any parent-teacher conference, you’ll want to give parents an idea of what you plan to discuss ahead of time. It’s also important to ask parents what they’d like to address. This puts both of you on the same page when it’s time to talk, and ensures you prioritize what’s really important to make the most of your time.
You can do this prep via email or phone, or consider setting up a private shared Google doc for each student. You and the parents can each make notes on it as you prepare. Then you can use the document to guide your discussion and for later follow-up. Find a free template to try with this link.
How can I show parents their student’s work?
Seeing examples of their student’s work is often a highlight of conferences for parents, and definitely a useful tool for teachers. Listed below are some ideas for sharing work at virtual parent-teacher conferences, when you can’t just slide a folder across the table.
- Use a document camera. Don’t try to just hold up a paper to your webcam; that’s frustrating for everyone. Instead, use screen-sharing and a document camera to look at each piece of work. (No document camera? Check out these hacks to make your own!)
- Prepare a slideshow. This is more work in advance, but older students can help. Have them build a Google Slideshow of their work, then add in any you want to share as well. Try making this a work-in-progress throughout the semester; each week, ask students to add new work to their slideshow. This is a terrific way for them to take ownership of their learning and progress.
- Scan and email. If you only have a couple of pages you’d like parents to see, scan them in and send them via email before the conference starts.
- Send work home. Make copies of any work you’d like parents to see, then mail it home or send it with students the day before conferences. This way, you’ll both have copies of the work in front of you when you talk. (Don’t skip the “making copies” step and opt to send home the original; this ensures kids can’t “accidentally lose it.”)
What are some other general tips for virtual parent-teacher conferences?
In many ways, virtual parent-teacher conferences are pretty similar to the in-person kind. The better prepared you are, the more smoothly they’ll go. That being said, here are a few more ideas for making online conferences work for you.
- Respect everyone’s time. Be sure to keep as close to your scheduled appointments as possible. Try setting a timer to keep yourself on track. In case you do run a few minutes late, consider preparing a video or slideshow parents can check out while they wait. This could be a virtual classroom tour, a performance by your kiddos, or a round-up of all the best student work so far this year (be sure to include something from everyone).
- Let parents talk. As a teacher, you’ll have a lot to share, but be sure parents have time to ask questions too. Consider starting the conference by asking parents what their concerns are before you dive in to provide feedback.
- Plan for follow-up as needed. Finish each conference by establishing any action items that need to be addressed, including when and how everyone will follow-up. Add notes to your calendar immediately (and ask parents to do the same).
- Cut everyone some slack. Virtual parent-teacher conferences are new to most participants at this point. Give everyone some time to get used to the idea, and understand that some parents may not feel especially comfortable appearing on camera. If your first round of conferences is a little bumpy, that’s okay. Learn from your mistakes, and plan to do better next time around.
Still have questions about virtual parent-teacher conferences? Join the conversation on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Facebook . You’ll find plenty of other teachers ready to offer their thoughts and suggestions.