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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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We’re approaching parent-teacher conference season – a time for families, schools, and communities to take on the shared responsibility for children’s learning and academic success! As you move towards the first conference of the year, we encourage you to view this time with families as an opportunity to expand upon the conversations that you may have had with them at a back-to-school night and throughout the first few weeks of school. We hope that you will consider the conference to be one of the many dialogues that you’ll have with families about their child’s progress throughout the year.

Ongoing, constructive, and meaningful conversations involve principal leadership and thoughtful preparation on the part of teachers and families. To support a continuous conversation about each student’s progress during conference season and beyond, we’ve created the following list of five of our resources that we hope you will find helpful.

What can you do to create effective relationships and have productive, ongoing conversations with a diverse set of families this year?

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Be persistent in reaching out to and communicating with families.
We Were a "Hard-to-Reach" Family
Nikia Parker was a “hard-to-reach” parent before developing a strong relationship with her family’s Early Head Start home visitor. The ongoing communication between Nikia and her home visitor provided Nikia with the skills and guidance she needed to effectively support her children while taking on advocacy and leadership roles within the Head Start community.


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Adopt online and in-person communication strategies.
Connected Educators, Connected Families
Elementary school principal and “connected educator” Joe Mazza discusses his integration of technology—including social media—into his school’s family engagement strategies to facilitate home-school communication. He also stresses the importance of balancing technology-based engagement strategies with in-person efforts to build relationships.


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Engage families and teachers in the development of guidelines for cross-cultural communication.
March 2011 FINE Newsletter Commentary: The Challenge of Cross-Cultural Family-School Communication
Many new teachers need guidance on how to meet the challenges posed by cultural diversity in their classrooms. Dr. Elise Trumbull, an independent educational consultant, provides a framework to help new teachers understand a variety of cultural patterns so that they can communicate effectively with families from different cultural backgrounds during parent-teacher conferences.


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Develop a systemic approach to conferences: emphasize the role of principals, teachers, and families.
Parent-Teacher Conference Tip Sheets (Hojas de Consejos Para Las Reuniones de Padres y Maestros)
Meeting with teachers in person remains the cornerstone of school-family engagement despite technological advances allowing parents to track their child’s progress. These tip sheets (also available in Spanish) provide key preparation strategies for conferences for families, educators, and school administrators.


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Use student data as a tool to guide conversations with families about student strengths and areas for improvement.
Tips for Administrators, Teachers, and Families: How to Share Data Effectively
Data are a combined set of information about students’ achievements, strengths and challenges, areas of interest, and learning styles. This set of tip sheets helps administrators, teachers, and families identify the best ways to share student data in meaningful ways, on a regular basis, to strengthen family–school partnerships and promote student learning.



© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project