Saturday, March 25, 2006

Meet the Parents

Parent Teacher Conferences are quickly becoming my favorite hours of professional development. Yes my favorite. I'm assuming most teachers would be shocked at that. In the past I sat alone in a room, met with the parents of my excelling students, said the same thing 60 times a night and rarely gained insight into the student. Parent teacher night meant “a dreaded 14 hour work day culminating with the understanding that tomorrow would be even worse and nothing substantial was accomplished.”

This year our team decided to change our approach. We sat together around a table and conversed as a team. Sitting with another professional discussing the academic and social performance of each student while the parent is present was enlightening. Mayo(English) and myself (Global Studies) sat together in room 203 to meet the parents. Needles to say, the experience was unique. The parent quickly was reassured that their student is known in the building. The parent (and student in most cases) genuinely began to see how each teacher is not only concerned with the students performance in a particular content area, but the student.

Many parents were happy that their time waiting to meet teachers was reduced. This is not surprising as Jeanne Belovitch, president of a Boston, Massachusetts Urban Parents Association said recently in a article on www.educationworld.com :

"In the majority of cases, they (teachers) will be talking to single parents who lead very complex lives. Those teachers need to understand that just because parents can't spend much time at school, it doesn't mean they aren't interested in their children's education."

Our team walked away from parent teacher conferences understanding each student in a more holistic manner. The parents and students easily saw the links between content areas and skills being taught. There was no downtime in the conversation. One teacher shared their view, the parent responded, the other teacher listened, pointed out similar skill level difficulties and shared possible solutions. (many parents seemed excited about the possibility of a writing center) . Between parents if anytime was available the professional conversation between colleagues continued. Actually many meetings included the phrase, "Ms. Mayo and I were just talking about this very thing..."

During a post conference debrief with a respected colleague I wondered why all teachers are not doing this. Enthusiastically I explained that, parents appreciated the conversation, students were more apt to be demystified concerning their strengths and weaknesses, and the experience was generally time well spent. The colleague explained to me that some teachers might be intimidated with the comfort level that experienced teachers or teachers that looped with the students. This was a new insight previously not considered. We as a team need to work on this.

We need to meet as a team, create a protocol that would make it comfortable for all teachers to share their observations with each other and parents without feeling uncomfortable. (the PTA could even help us with the creation of this protocol).

Could someone present this over the summer? In hindsight we should have video-taped the process. (besides the fact that some of the conversations were quite humorous, seeing the connections being made by parents, students and teachers would be convincing enough) We could really use some feedback from parents on this too.

ISA is into grade level teaming (principle #3), and bringing parents into the mix are essential to student achievement. Could this be something that could be looked at further during an ISA Summer Institute?

*** After reading this blog you might ask yourself why parent teacher conferences typically look like the one depicted in the photo above. I asked myslef the same thing. I think it is easier for the teacher and gives them a sense of power.

2 comments:

Teacher said...

Wally,

I've enjoyed your articles so much. Glad to hear the parent conferences went so well. When I taught on a team all six of us met the parents as a team. You hit it on the head. You get a holistic view of the student. It also provides common ground for future conversations about the student. We were usually surprised when we saw how some students were doing well in certain classes and not so good in others. This evidence provided us with valuable conversations about how we were teaching and reaching all students. We learned so much from each other about teaching, probably more than the parents learned about the child.

I ran a hard copy about the math being taught at RVC. I wish we could get all math teachers to read it.

Has Nigel ever mentioned the blog in the PISS? I realize it was set up for Montessori but it's sure good reading.

Brenda

Anonymous said...

I don't like the idea of meeting together for the conferences. I prefer the one on one with the parent, it seems more personal ans less overwhelming for a parent. My impressions of a student and their performance in my class might not be reflective of his other classes and might need to be addressed one on one. Although I see the value in group conferences, I would always prefer, one to one.

Frank