I’ve re-discovered something this last week at parent-teacher conferences, something so strong that I’m going to change my mid-year conference plan.
I’ve had situations in the past where it’s of utmost importance for the student to be included in the parent-teacher conference. It could be for a variety of reasons but many with a troubled undertone: a need to get the student back on track, a plan for behavior modifications, or a consideration for academic adjustments for success. It’s usually a time to indicate to the student the importance of family and school working together for the betterment of the student. My experience is that the outcome of these conferences have been positive for all involved, even though there may be challenges ahead to work through.
On occasion I’ve had the conference in which a student and siblings may be in the classroom during the conference. Most of the time it’s not a problem, yet it does invite distractions. The student knows they are the topic and yet is engaged in some other way while parents and teacher meet.
This last week, mid-year conferences rolled around. I had set 4 chairs in a circle without giving it too much thought. Throughout the morning I had two students arrive with parents. I didn’t hesitate to suggest that each sit in the circle with us for the meeting. It was a delight to see my students’ faces light up when I handed a copy of the conference form to each. You see, the conference form starts out with Student Strengths. The smile that appeared on faces as they read my written compliments was a joy to me as well. (I wonder what they thought it would say? I do remember my parents returning home after conferences and wanting to know “What did the teacher say?” as though there may be a hidden trick somewhere springing out to get me….)
In a classroom of 25 students, there’s rarely a time to speak one-on-one at length in protected conversation. Inviting the student in turned out to be a fresh outlook for me as I learned about my students straight from themselves. There was true conversation among student, parents, and myself about learning styles, curriculum and subject material, new approaches, technology, and “favorite things.” I listened as students explained to their parents about Edmodo Global Pen Pals, Kidblog, 100 Word Challenge, Science Journals, the Science and Engineering in the Winter Olympics, homework patterns, classroom routines, and classroom behaviors – theirs and others! This all came with just topic headings for discussion. The students were ready to share, the parents were ready to listen, and I was ready to soak up this learning opportunity.
Familiar conference reminders, yet often need to be revisited….
- Start with positives (and a short prayer if you’re blessed to be in a Christian school setting). Who doesn’t like to start off on a good note?
- Students have insight to their learning, even if it’s as simple as sharing what things they’ve liked the most and what seems difficult or confusing to them. After all, they are the focus of the meeting!
- Compliment students more often in genuine, specific ways. Self-esteem and self-worth grows each time.
- Listen, listen, listen, and ask for explanation or reason behind what is said.
- Take notes or you may forget details!
- Not everyone will share or be open. Thank those who take the time to do so.
- Weigh and consider what is heard and how to incorporate change in the “game” to keep it fresh.
- Follow up as needed.
- Continue communication regularly.
Next mid-year conference time I will specifically request that the student come to the conference with the parents. Something magical, a bonding is strengthened and happens when you have student, parents, and teacher all working together for the best learning experience possible.