Parent-teacher conferences at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring are taking on a new format.
Rather than teachers meeting with individual parents and families, the conferences are moving to a group setting starting this November, making it the first school in Montgomery County Public Schools to do so.
Sligo Creek Principal Diantha Swift said that through the new format, the school hopes to help teachers share information and answer questions during the conferences and get parents more involved.
Previously, teachers have held 15-minute meetings with parents to discuss topics such as their child’s performance and updates on the curriculum. Swift said that doesn’t let teachers go into as much depth as they would like.
“If you’re conference number 28, you have a tired teacher who’s been talking all night,” Swift said.
The group meetings, she said, will last about an hour and include parents from the entire class — between 15 and 25 parents. These meetings will happen three times a year rather than once a year and each meeting will have a different focus. The two other sets of meetings this school year will be held in January and April. Parents will receive information about their child’s performance and have the opportunity to ask questions specifically about their child if they wish.
“It’s really for the greater good of all students and families,” she said.
Swift said these conferences are not the only opportunities for parents and teachers to meet. Many Sligo Creek teachers already have met with parents this fall.
“If a teacher is waiting until a parent conference to let a parent know that a child is struggling, that’s too late,” Swift said.
She said the change has caused “angst” among some parents. While the format is different, Swift said, it’s “certainly not meant to shut parents out.”
Swift said the school sent information to parents about the changes and she has spoken to the school’s Parent Teacher Association.
Sligo Creek fourth-grade teacher Erin Payne said she was excited about the idea right away.
When she conducted the 15-minute conferences, Payne said, she would share information such as data and progress, but didn’t have time to go into details.
Payne said she will use the first conference in November to discuss the new curriculum and grading system her students are seeing this year. Parents can share their own ideas and ask questions, she said.
“It builds a sense of community in your class,” Payne said.
She said teachers don’t wait until conferences to alert a parent about a specific issue.
“If there’s a deeper issue, like a learning disability or a behavior problem, that would be a different meeting anyway,” she said.
Michael Robbins — who works in family and community engagement related to education, but spoke as a parent of a Sligo Creek second-grader — said he met with the school’s staff to talk about parent-teacher conferences he had observed elsewhere.
Robbins said he saw conferences that not only used a group setting, but also focused more on using data, setting goals and equipping parents to help with the teaching process at home.
“We know our teachers are overworked,” he said. “We have many more students in the classroom than we would want ideally and teachers shouldn’t have to do it by themselves.”
Robbins said parents can always schedule one-on-one time with teachers.
“Having these ongoing PEP (Parents Engagement Partnership) meetings will actually make those one-on-one conversations more productive,” he said.
School board President Christopher S. Barclay said that, while he had not previously heard of the changed conference format at Sligo Creek, he thought it sounded like “an interesting idea.”
“I’d love to know how it goes and if others choose to try it themselves,” he said.