Rethinking the Parent-Teacher Conference

November 7, 2016

It’s the fall semester and parent-teacher conferences are being held in schools across the country. These meetings—in which parents and guardians meet with a teacher for 15 to 20 minutes once or twice a year—are often a staple of a school’s parent engagement efforts. According to the nonprofit data bank Child Trends, nearly 9 in 10 parents—including more than 3 in 4 impoverished parents—attend general parent-teacher meetings each year.

However, the traditional format of these conferences have been critiqued for lacking focus and strategy. To engage families on a deeper level, some schools have implemented a new approach to conferences called Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTTs). With APTTs, parents meet as a group with a classroom teacher for 75 to 90 minutes three times throughout the school year. Within each meeting, parents discuss the expectations or standards for their child’s grade, see data about their child’s performance, set a 60-day academic goal for their child, and then practice strategies to implement at home. (Watch this video to see an actual meeting.) Between the first and second group meeting, parents meet one-on-one with their child’s teacher for 30 minutes to discuss their progress.

Developed in an Arizona school district in 2009, APTTs are now reaching approximately 200,000 families in 18 states. According to APTT creator Maria Paredes, schools that have embraced APTT have experienced accelerated student academic growth, developed collaborative partnerships with families, and improved school climate. “The APTT approach gives parents a deeper understanding of their roles and responsibilities,” says Paredes in this article. “Sharing in that knowledge and building parents’ confidence and ability to support their children’s learning is what equity is all about.”

The FAST® (Families & Schools Together) program shares the same approach to parent involvement. The belief that families are central and critical to children’s educational performance is woven throughout FAST Trainings, materials, and best practices. Within each FAST multi-family session, team members work with parents to build their confidence so that they can be a partner in their child’s educational journey.

While not every school will implement Academic Parent Teacher Teams, each of us can embrace the spirit of them as we build relationships with families. One question we might ask ourselves: how can we not only get parents in to classrooms and schools but engage them as partners in students’ educational success? We would love to hear your feedback.