Alternative Models for Traditional Parent Teacher Conferences

Tammy Jackson's picture

Written by Tammy Jackson, Principal, East Jordan High School; Region 2 Representative, MASSP Board of Directors

The research is clear; when parents are involved in their child's education, student achievement is higher. After all, that is the main reason we hold Parent Teacher Conferences (PTC). However, the reality is that we don't typically see the parents whose children would benefit the most from that opportunity. And as expected, parents whose children are engaged and successful in school often represent the majority of parent-teacher conference attendees.

Over the years, I have attempted multiple efforts to increase parent attendance at conferences — some attempts netting nearly 87 percent of all parents. A quality parent-teacher conference with 100 percent of the parents would require days of conferencing; however, when that happens, teachers don't have the necessary time to spend with each parent.

Two years ago, my staff and I began to shift the paradigm of PTC's by thinking outside the box. After we agreed that our goal was to improve student achievement, we began designing a "non-traditional" way to utilize our time. As a result, we spend only one session in the traditional model of Parent Teacher Conferences. On the other night of conferences, we focus on alternative ways to reach our "at risk" students in the effort to positively impact their academic standing. Among the non-traditional methods we have used are:

  • Scheduled Conferences: In grade level teams, teachers selected the 10 most "at risk" students. They collected achievement data for those students and created a student profile. Using that profile, they developed an intervention plan that they would share with parents and their child. Parents were invited to attend a conference with their child's grade level team where the information. Some teachers of elective courses use their "contractual time" to call and set up the appointments while others served as host on the scheduled evening to guide parents to their meeting location. In the end, an action plan is completed in collaboration with parents, students and teachers. Using this model of PTC we found that 42 percent of the students represented improved their grade.

  • Phone Conference: Each teacher has an Educational Planning (EDP) Class. This class is used as a combination of a typical homeroom and study hall. Students are assigned to one teacher for four years. Among other things, the EDP teacher is expected to be a mentor to their 18-22 students. As a mentor they monitor each student's grades and manage how the he or she utilizes their time in EDP. In this model of PTC, teachers chose 10 of their EDP students who were not achieving at expected levels. They gathered information from the student's core teachers and then called and shared that information with the parent. The teacher shared with parents what actions they would be taking and then asked for parent support. The data collected showed an initial improvement in achievement but it dropped off quickly.

  • Credit Recovery: Core teachers identify 10-15 students that recently failed the marking period. These students are invited to attend a 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. evening academy for the purpose of recovering their credit. Students remain after school and are served a snack and dinner. During the four-hour academy time, teachers allow students to either make up missing work or retest and they reteach as needed. By far, this model was the most successful in increasing student achievement. Every student that attended the academy increased their grade and recovered their credit. Anytime you can help a student recover a credit you significantly impact the chance they will make it to graduation.

Our next focus will be on developing an "electronic conference" that will allow us to reach parents anywhere, anytime! Parents can already monitor their child's grade through a host of student management systems and email. We just need to figure out a way to make that interaction more meaningful. If you have a model that works or a suggestion to try, please send a response to this article.

Our attempts to develop non-traditional uses of contractual PTC time were not meant to diminish the importance of communicating with parents. Positive relationships with parents are the single most important aspect of a healthy school culture. Working directly with students is what we do best and should always be our number one priority.