With the annual October / Fall Conference period upon us, I am frequently asked by parents, “How can I make the most out of these conference sessions?” Especially within the context of COVID. By co-creating the format with your child’s teacher, you will be standing out as your child’s best advocate. Most effective Parent-Conferences within the General Education program are those which have the following features:

  • Highlight “What Works?” by celebrating your child’s success first and foremost!
  • Review the Accommodations (from the IEP or 504 Plan) which serve as the foundation for his or her success when there are disabilities and challenges at play within the school experience.
  • Explore Work Samples and other sets of evidence in support of his or her success as well as the areas needing re-calibration and adjustment
  • Most notably, select one or two specific behaviors or areas of need within instruction or learning to focus upon
  • Walk away from the meeting with a collaboratively designed Action Plan including the following:
    • What are we expecting the new learning or behavior to look like?
    • How will we measure it?  What will it look like when we know it is working (or not)?
    • Who will serve the care-taker and manager of the evidence to be collected?
    • When will we follow up next and review the progress? What will our communication schedule look like?

By contacting your child’s teacher(s) in advance and identifying your expectations of the conference session, you are assisting them as well, for successful teachers utilize Fall Conferences as an important “check in” point of reference.  As a result, I believe the separation is in the preparation!  You will stand out as your child’s best advocate by reaching out to their teachers in advance of the meetings.  Also, if you believe the conversation requires more time than the scheduled session, always ask for an alternative time which meets their schedule needs as well.

Heads up on a few twists to this annual event:

  • Student Led Conferences: When students are engaged in learning, there tends to be a higher level of retention and success. However, the practice of a “student led” parent conference may actually lead to poor planning and a lack of information exchanged due to the developmental limitations of the student and their undeveloped facilitation / communication skills. Personally, I would ask for a more traditional approach to the conference and have your child serve as a supplemental source of information and insight as the adults move forward with the conversation.
  • COVID: Due to limits on “face to face” instruction in many districts, there still is a need for the conversations to highlight an evidence-based / data supported conference. Prior to the scheduled meeting, it’s essential to ask for sample work and or assessments to be highlighted as the basis of the conversation. Most notably, be prepared to ask the following question: “How has remote learning (or any other alternative) impacted my child’s progress compared to what we would have expected within a more traditional format of instruction and learning?” If the answer appears to reflect a negative impact, where there appears to be regression or limited progress, the conversation within needs to shift to the IEP TEAM as part of a “recovery services” dialog.

For more information about parent conferences, working with your child’s teachers, or any other special needs topics, write us at larrydavis@specialeducationadvocacy.org or give us a call at 206 914 0975 / 888 851 5904.