Several years ago our middle school decided to change the focus of conferences from parent - teacher conversations to parent - student conversations. Teachers are now facilitators and help students prepare for conferences by asking them to reflect on their learning, choosing work to showcase, and creating goals for the upcoming quarter, semester, or year. Now most of the work is done before the conferences begin. Students and parents come on conference night and find a place to sit with each other for an unlimited time as students show and explain their portfolios we have created together. Then families come see me as they are finished. Because students (with my guidance) have painted a pretty accurate picture of their own progress, my conversations with parents can revolve around helping students meet their goals. Conferences are much more productive and satisfying for everyone involved than before. Because parents are scheduled at staggered times and see me as they finish I don't feel so rushed that I cannot have a meaningful conversation with parents. Because conferences are valued at our school we dedicate almost 10 hours to scheduling conferences over a two day period. Parents sign up for times electronically so that they have some flexibility in scheduling (it used to be a disaster when we "told" parents when to come). This also keeps the volume of people fairly even during the two days. By being proactive and having disciplinary conferences early and often with parents, we can keep these conferences focused on academics. I think the next step is helping kids develop an online portfolio that parents have access to all the time so our communication can continue after conferences as well.