As an experienced, master teacher and mom of two boys in kindergarten, my sister Beth is funny, open and insightful. Her wisdom on this topic is practical and direct:
1. Hold the first conversation before you ever hold a parent conference. Beth favors home visits. Also, have an event where kids showcase something they have learned-- for example her HS students did presentations on a social justice report way before parent conferences.
2. Be mindful of parent's experience with school. New immigrants for example, may not be comfortable at first.
2. Don't limit the conferences to one night or day; schedule them with parents.
3. Offer childcare and a meal.
4. Have a few parent workshops running simultaneously: How to use the internet, email etc..
5. Interrupt any narrative your school may have that "Only the honors kid's parents care to come to parent conferences."
6. The interaction must be 2-way. Beth has parents fill in cards or tell her about what they want her to know bout their child and at least things they want their child to learn.
7. If parents cannot attend, find a way to make it OK for an older sibling, or mentor, or social worker to attend in the parent's place. Every child should have access to a talk between their teacher(s) and another person who cares about them.
8. Beth's advice for fledgling teachers: Always have samples of student work! Celebrate the amazing growth that artifacts show.
9. Listen, listen, listen. And learn from every parent before you.