This morning as I was waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks, I read an article about Parent-Teacher Conferences that Andrew Campbell tweeted out. This article caused me to stop and think and maybe helped clarify what I’m feeling right now.
Next week, we have our report card interviews. I’m really struggling with that this year, as I’m away from Monday-Thursday, so the interviews that I usually do on Thursday night cannot happen until the Friday or the following Monday night. Our school is also exploring the benefits of “student led conferences”: something that I’ve done for years now, but have modified a bit for this year, as I have a student teacher right now and don’t know that I’ve had enough time to truly prepare the students for the typical format. So I have one family coming in at a time, students are going to discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and next steps, and then we’re going to look at some work samples together to help give some context to this discussion. I’d like to think of this as a “shared conference” with knowing that I will likely reconsider things for next year.
I’m happy about this compromise though, but then I think about the article from this morning, and my thoughts shift. You see the problem I’m having even with my modified student-led conferences is that there’s nothing new to share. I email parents every night to tell them what’s happening in the classroom. Every day, I create a Storify Story for our class blog that captures all of the learning throughout the day: from pictures to videos to podcasts to tweets. When I asked students the other day how many people visit this blog at home with their parents, every hand went up. Wow! Parents are constantly seeing, reading, and hearing what’s happening in the classroom. And then, usually every week, I call all of the parents to touch base with them. We discuss student progress and issues that matter to them. After this year’s ECOO Conference, I also have students reflect on their learning every week, and share their reflections with me and with their parents. Goal-setting is a regular occurrence in the classroom, and now all of us have insight into these goals.
So yes, it’s wonderful to sit down with parents, and I always enjoy the opportunity to talk with them. I’m glad that students are getting a big voice in this conversation, as we’re all here for them. But talking together should not just be a once-a-year event. Even when I phone and speak with parents, it’s not uncommon to have the child join in on this conversation. That’s a good thing! All of the students know that I talk regularly with all of the parents, and all of the students know that I share their learning regularly with all of the parents. They’re proud to show off the work that they do, and they’re happy to work with us to meet their goals. In my opinion, this is the way things should be!
Instead of the debate over parent interviews, student-led conferences, or a combination of the two, maybe we should be considering how to increase parent engagement beyond this one night. How do we bring students, parents, teachers, and administrators together all year long? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!