Virtual parent-teacher conferences: ‘Bridges commute time, builds relationships’

By London Sinclair, Senior Reporter

With Archer still following COVID-19 protocol and mitigation tactics per the CDC, parent-teacher conferences are no exception. This year, the parent-teacher conferences were held virtually via Zoom on Friday, Nov. 11, and Friday, Nov. 19, with no classes for all upper school and middle school students. Archer also offered limited appointments on Monday through Thursday during the week of Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 to accommodate family schedules.

“How can teachers meet with parents, grownups, guardians to help best support students, and close that communication loop?” Innovative Learning Coordinator Malia McClurg said. “Especially in this pandemic era, where parents aren’t really allowed on campus, it feels like it’s more distant than ever before. So, that has always been the purpose of parent-teacher conferences, but now we’ve shifted to online to continue to support that.”

Archer is using a new scheduling software called pickAtime, a popular tool amongst independent schools, to merge the academic and technological domains. This software allows teachers to create a schedule tailored to their classes. Parents can select from all available times to find the most convenient slot(s) and log in at any time to create, review or modify existing appointments.

“If you’re a working family, it’s a lot easier for you to connect with campus and not have to miss your work, so we’re hoping it helps our families at home,” Director of Academic Operations Reed Farley said. “We still are within COVID restrictions, so  if we were to move it on campus, we would need the screening form, vaccination status, COVID testing, [to] prove all of that. We are minimizing the amount of people in our large spaces, and typically these conferences took up almost the entire campus. So it’s space, it’s COVID and it’s accessibility.”

Math teacher Matthew Bartha echoed the accessible nature of virtual conferences and their conveniences for families in all work situations or commitments.

“The thing I like about the virtual conferences is that regardless of a parent’s work schedule or whatever they have going on, they are able to find a time to have that 10-minute meeting,” Bartha said. “I have been with the kids … I try to make myself visibly as available as possible, and I am doing the same for parents so that every parent can come talk with me about their student.”

In addition to using pickAtime, the conferences were held on Zoom, a video conferencing app that many students, parents and faculty members became familiar with during remote learning.

“It’s just a conversation about how we can best support the student. What are we seeing in school and how can we learn more about what is going on at home to best provide that support?,” McClurg said. “We talked about how to navigate this online format — if you have something to share, are you going to drop it in the chat? Are you going to project it? How is it going to work? That was my role for getting teachers ready for conferences.”

While the school is unsure if they will maintain this virtual format into upcoming years, this year has produced record sign-ups, which may impact decision-making.

“We’re reflecting on this year as we go,” Farley said. “So far, our parent nights have been remote as well on Zoom, and we are seeing that our attendance is a lot greater than when it was in person. If we are making our message and our community more accessible to our families — to me, that is a win.”