The first thing you should do is chat with the student briefly so you are both at ease, and you have a bubble of trust. This makes the process less scary for the student, and reinforces that this is a conversation and not an inquisition.
Try to start the conference on a positive note and end it on a positive note. As the above poster stated ask questions that will allow the student to tell you what is going on rather than you stating what you think is going on. Drmonica also makes great points in her post about keeping the door open and avoiding touching.
Informal conference, to discuss what? Behavior*? Grades? A little of both?
The first thing I do in any one-on-one conference, whether with parents or students, is pick ONE specific positive thing the student has done recently (or does consistently) and affirm him or her on that.
*If the student is a behavioral problem, be sure to go into the conference with a clear goal in mind. Do not leave things open-ended or half-planned. You must have a plan. The following usually works for me:
- State the negative behavior.
- State the desired positive behavior you'd like to see instead (or have the student come up with some ideas).
- State the natural consequences for the negative behavior (lower grades, failed courses, not graduating on time, a lifetime of living in your parents' basement, etc.)
- State the imposed consequence for the negative behavior. (What are you going to do to the student the next time this behavior occurs?) Imposed consequences might have tiers. Start small, work up.
- Ask the student if he/she has any questions. At the very end say, "I'm glad we are both on the same page. That will be all."
- Follow through with the plan.
Now, if you'd like to implement a little bit of "Reality Therapy" into the above plan, instead of "stating" everything yourself, you basically question the student until he comes up with the bottom line of each step on his own. Thank you Mr. Glasser. Brilliant.
These are the kinds of things that don't get taught in traditional teacher preparation courses. You raise an excellent question.
In working with beginning teachers, my advice to them in dealing with students has always included several things:
- Leave your classroom door wide open, or meet with the student in the library or other public place. This is for your own protection should the student later become disgruntled.
- Be warm and friendly with your student, but do not touch him or her at all.
- Open the conference by telling your student that you are happy that s/he is in your class. Ask how the student feels about his/her progress in the class.
- Once you have established the student's purpose in meeting with you, ask some clarifying questions to help the student arrive at his/her own conclusions if possible.
- Close the conference by identifying any specific steps that you and/or your student will take in the coming days and weeks.
Good luck in your work with your students!
I can't presume to speak for someone else, of course, but I can address the idea of non-verbal communication. This is the part of communication which some notice, understand, and respond to intuitively while others really have to work to see it and understand it. Non-verbal communication is what we all do with our faces, arms, hands, eyes--our bodies in general--when we both speak and listen. People who are bored or uninterested tend to "fidget," for example. When angry, people often cross their arms as if to shield themselves from what is being said. (This is a self-protective stance, as well--showing defensiveness to whoever is speaking or what is being said.) Rolling eyes are often an indication of sarcasm, disrespect, or boredom.
Really, I think you probably both observe and do these kinds of things on a regular basis. (Think about what you do to express yourself when a lecture goes on too long or when a friend is obviously stretching the truth as they tell you a story or when you're listening intently.) If you aren't in the habit of noticing these kinds of things, start. If you're going to be a teacher, reading these non-verbal clues is really going to be helpful and add insight to your other observations (such as what they write or what they say). This is especially true for junior high students, who often struggle to express their true selves. It speaks well of you that you're looking ahead and asking for some advice from experienced people. Good luck with those conferences!
Convey the specific purpose of the one on one conference. If it is a goal-setting conference, establish the parameters for goal planning and ensure that the student isn't pushing himself too far. If it is a disciplinary conference, present in writing what are the expectations that you, as a teacher, had of the student and plan a way to get back into action. If it is a scoring conference, have rubrics ready and always set the goal of the activity. Just make sure to always specify and be very clear about the purpose of the conference and what wants to be achieved.
Always remember to stay positive and be very professional. Many times at parent teacher conferences teachers are eager to discuss what the student is doing incorrectly and they often forget to talk about the positive qualities of the student. When teachers are talking negatively about someones child the parents will often get very defensive. This is definitely not the way to start a positive relationship with parents. Teachers and parents need to work together collaboratively in order for the student to acheive the greatest success that they are capable of.
I think that much of this is going to depend on the relationship between both and the style of the teacher. There is no right answer. The only pressing need is that the teacher approaches the student with a sense of respect. Meeting with them privately, away from the prying eyes of others and ensuring that there is not a loss of social face is critical. When this meeting takes place, it has to be productive and progressive. It cannot be done to belittle any student. There has to be a spirit of cooperation present that the student can accept or cannot deny. Paying attention to non verbal cues, as well as making sure that there is a two to one ratio of compliments to areas of improvement is critical. At the same time, being able to allow the student a chance to talk is also extremely important. Without these elements, most conferences will be lacking. I might also stress that the teacher has to make the conference about the behaviors and actions, and not about the student, personally. The middle school child takes everything personally because they are emerging into a frame of reference where they can only see the world through themselves. If they perceive that the teacher is driving a stake through their own sense of personal being, acrimony will ensue. This goes away when the teacher makes everything in the conference about the behaviors and avoiding the personal targeting that might happen in conference style settings. The last thing needed is to make sure that the child understands that this is a process and there will be a follow up, so that they understand that the teacher's advocacy is something that is consistent and not a singular instant.
You need to ask the student questions, and really listen to their answers. Relavent questions of course. It's a tool of such power; you'll be blown away at the results.
"I see that you made a 60 on last week's quiz. What happened there?" -- who knows what they will say! And they could be so much more self aware than you would have ever realized. Or you could find out, "well, my mom had a baby week before last, and she came home, and the baby cries all night and I'm a so tired, I'm really sorry. I tried to study but I just could not concentrate, and during the quiz I was exhausted." Wouldn't you feel like a heel if you just jumped in with "you need to study better!"?
I love asking my kids questions. And they appreciate the respect.
In his answer akannan, Teacher Middle School, wrote "Paying attention to non verbal cues,"
Could you please explanin a little bit more about this thing like what you mean by non verbal cues, and how to pay attention to non verbal cues and so on and how it contribute to the conference.