Here's something I've used with my students just after every grading period in preparation for parent-teacher conferences. I walk the parents through what their students have written and the conference pretty much takes off from there. It's especially helpful with students who aren't succeeding as much, because it allows the parent (and the teacher) to get a much better idea of what is going on with the whole child that can't necessarily be inferred from a letter grade or percentage of work that has been completed. I can't claim credit for the form, by the way. A friend of mine, Lisa Wilson, shared it with me and said I could pass it on to others.
I have created other versions of the form that are slightly altered and have room for students to look back at the previous goals they have set and they can chart their progress accordingly. This also is helpful to refer to when doing parent-teacher conferences in the spring.
One administrator I had preached the value of "putting pennies in the bank" when you dealt with parents about their children. She implemented a "Patriot Postcard" program in which the school printed up school-logo blank post cards and teachers could use as many as they wanted to send home nice notes about students. We could put something as small as "Johnny raised his hand today before speaking" or something as big as "Sally really showed kindness today to Mary Sue." We were encouraged to send at least one a week. Many teachers sent more than that.
The reason my assistant principal preached the "pennies in the bank" philosophy was that eventually, we might have to "make a withdrawal" from the bank to discuss problem behavior or poor performance. If you had sent along good news throughout the year about a student, the parent would likely be less confrontational during the parent-teacher conference because that parent knew you also noticed good behavior. This program established good rapport between parents and teachers, making that dreaded parent conference much less so.
I think that parent-teacher conferences can be an excellent way to build rapport with parents as well as exchange mutually important information. One important aspect is active listening. I know that many times we have so much to cover in a short period of time, and it is easy for the teacher to do a lot of the talking. If teachers take the time to open the door, ask questions, and listen, they may gain valuable information to help a student in class. I like Amy's pennies in the bank analogy, because parents are much more open when you have communicated positively as well as in times of challenge.
Another important aspect of strengths based conferences is modeling the focus on what is going well for a student. Many parents go into the conference thinking that the focus will be on struggles and challenges. Unfortunately, many teachers are not trained in "parent communication" whether it's written communication or live, in person communication. As the educators and leaders, we must model how we can use strengths and a child-centered view to "reframe" the view of a child's progress and performance.
Assuming the students have taken the strengths assessment (either the Strengths Explorer or StrengthsQuest), the teacher and parents could discuss how the students' Signature Themes are being played out in the classroom AND at home. This would reinforce the strengths-based effort in both the school and home. By default, this would help the student become more aware of his/her own strengths and therefore, he or she could consciously begin to use his/her strengths on a daily basis. This self-affirmation by the student would form a 'team' approach by 1) identifying the student's Signature Themes (school or self); 2) encouraging the teacher to play to the child's strengths (teacher); and 3) engage the parents in the integration of using strengths at home to reinforce what is being done at school (and vice versa). This team approach would nurture an environment of constant self-affirmation by the student, and integration of their strengths in all they do (home and school) in a way that does not feel deliberate but instead, purposeful.