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Fariña advises schools to stay positive in parent conferences

New Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants parent-teacher conferences to feel good for the families that participate.

In her weekly message to principals, Fariña reiterates her commitment to the “principles of collaboration and communication” and urges principals to ensure that the values translate into parent conferences. In keeping with her tone since taking office last month, she also implies that teachers should emphasize the positive rather than harp on students’ academic shortcomings:

As Parent-Teacher Conferences approach, I encourage you to work with your staff, especially new teachers, to set up appointments with parents that decrease wait times, begin conversations with families in positive ways, and utilize the translation and interpretation services that are available to engage and support parents with limited English proficiency. While this is a time to discuss student progress, we must also demonstrate that how we communicate is as important as what we communicate.

Across the city, parent-teacher conferences tend to be a frenzied affair. But Fariña paints another picture in her 2008 book, where she recommends that teachers block out half an hour for each parent conference — more for ones that are likely to be difficult — and involve students as much as possible. If the conferences come after other communications by the school, they will be more effective, she writes.

“Parents will already be familiar with curriculum mandates, so the conversations can focus on the needs of the child,” Fariña and coauthor Laura Kotch write.

Middle school parent-teacher conferences are set for the end of the month. Elementary school conferences are to take place in mid-March, and high school conferences will take place at the end of March. This year, the city made an extra $5 million available to pay school staff to hold extra conferences for parents of low-scoring students.

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