The Value of Writing Before Parent-Teacher Conferences

We have our three days of parent-teacher conferences coming up later this week. Since I teach on a sixth grade team in an elementary school that utilizes a middle school approach (I teach Language Arts, someone else teaches math, etc., and students move through the curriculum during the day), we often have headaches trying to gather enough information for the parents that we will see (they get to choose one of us, and we relay info to them from our colleagues). It can take hours of discussions at times, in fact.

A few years ago, I showed my team how to use Google Docs, and we now save a lot of time by creating a shared resource about all of our 80 students.  The file is only for us teachers: think of it as notes for a conversation. We go in regularly and make notes about the students, so that when parent conferences come around (or report cards/progress reports), we all have some ideas of what is going on in the other classes.

As any teacher knows, sometimes the students who excel in writing are not the same who excel in math. The problem with our particular model (where we specialize in a subject area) is that we don’t always see those other strengths and other weaknesses.

This weekend, I had a stack of writing samples from our 80 sixth graders, and I began going through each student, one at a time, writing my reflections about each student so far this year — their strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing, and comments about advice I am giving them, and strategies for moving ahead. It’s time-consuming, obviously.


The act of writing about every single one of my students really allowed me time and space to think deeply about my perceptions of each student as writers and readers here in the second month of the school year. It forced me to recall moments, conversations, classroom participation and activities, and more, and then formulate my ideas in writing. I know I write a lot more than my colleagues do, but it occurred to me that I am writing more for myself — and not just for conferences, but for teaching every day – than for them, although I expect they will find my notes useful in talks with parents.

The experienced reminded me again of the power of writing, for ourselves as much as for our students.

Peace (in the reflection),


  1. Kevin,
    I love the idea of using Google Docs for your team notes. I also work in a teamed middle school and wish I could get more teachers on board with digital collaboration. But I am especially impressed by your reflections on students. The act of writing is so powerful and you must have come to several understandings about your students as you wrote about them. I’m also a mom to a 5th and an 8th grader. I’d love for either of them to have such a reflective teacher.

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