Cultivating Welcoming Environments: "The Rolling Office Hours"

Offering different 'types' of parent teacher conferences to help fit the needs and expectations of parents throughout the year.

Photo of Jamie Spatt
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At my school we have done a lot of thinking already about ways to make sure parents feel WELCOMED in the classroom and especially at conferences and with their teachers. I had the privilege of discussing what was NOT helpful and successful with parents from my school, about their previous experiences.

What is NOT helpful: 

- Quick and fast

- Twice a year meetings 

- Delivery based model - here is the info and on to the next parents

What is really helpful at our school:

- Using INTAKE meetings, sort of like a parent teacher conference at the very start of the year to simply talk about the student's prior experience and the families prior experiences and their hopes and dreams for the coming year. Taking the time both with the child and without to take notes on what has worked well for them in the past and what they are hoping their child will learn in the coming year sets the stage for trust and for sharing mutual goals and understanding throughout the year. In these conversations we are trying to just 'get to know' the family and let them do most of the talking. We want to address their questions, concerns, and wishes and take notes about their needs and ideas early on.

- We find it helpful to think of 'personalizing for parents' just as much as we try to personalize for our own students. We want to make sure our parents know we are listening and hearing their needs. I establish this by asking lots of questions and always INVITING them to speak first and to share whats on their mind and what their student is saying at home these days. 

- We use a method of 'Rolling Office Hours' throughout the year where parents can 'sign up' for office hours as the need occurs. Parents can sign u for half hour slots on certain days that teachers are 'available' to chat after school. Teachers or parents request hours as needed, and recommend 4 per year. Some students end up using a lot and some not so much, it helps us adjust for the need of the family. Doing two sessions for the year and stacking them on top of each other from 8:00 - 6:00 in 40 minute increments is exhausting for teachers and has proved to not be as satisfying to our parents who have had the pleasure of meeting us for shorter amounts of time, more often, as the need comes about. During certain parts of the year, around the middle and at the end, office hours are more necessary and are often requested by both parent and student.

- Keeping it short and creating ACTIONABLE goals with POSITIVE language. Instead of saying 'needs improvement' say we can support them by... or they could grow by... Think of ways to use language that reinforces positive and goal setting sentiment for the student eve if it is a 'negative' sounding behavior. MODEL for parents the same way you would model for students. 

- Include the child for half or part of the meeting. Share physical documents and work! Parents love to see the teacher lit up with Joy about what their students have done and examples of growth. 

- Have a check in meeting summarizing 3 main points with all colleagues involved BEFORE the meeting so you know you are aligned and can give the parents ample time to talk by not dominating it with lengthy explanations. Clarify their ideas by asking, 'am I hearing this right?' 'It sounds like you are saying...' 

- Little touches like offering a special place, flowers on the table, walking them to the door, taking a coat, taking the TIME, a cup of tea can all go a long way in making someone feel comfortable! 

1 comment

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Photo of Jessica Lura

I love how you have made parents such a focus. Your format for office hours is a great idea--meeting when there is a need, not just a day where everyone should meet.

What was the initial reaction by parents when you made the switch? How did you communicate the purpose and potential benefit to the parents? (I am just thinking about some parents who seem to want/need the "everyone is doing the same thing at the same time" model and end up feeling that they are some how missing out if everything is not standardized.