Today is a big day for us – it’s Parent-Teacher Conference Day!
I’ve found that if I don’t take a few moments to collect my thoughts, the whole experience can be a real let-down.
So l put together what I call The Ultimate Prep Checklist for Parent Teacher Conferences. It’s what I do with my kids and I’ve found that it really helps me to maximize the 10 minutes I have face-to-face with the teacher.
This is the process I’ve honed with my older kids at Parnassus (School of Logic 5th – 8th Grade). I meet with the kids together to discuss each subject and teacher.
I begin by asking the kids these questions for each teacher and subject:
- Rate the teacher on a scale from 1-10.
- If they are a 10, what makes them a 10?
- If they are not a 10, what would make them a 10?
Note from me: These questions tie in nicely with our daily car-ride home. The first question I ask the kids when they get in the car is: How was your day on a scale from 1-10 and what would have made it a 10? Somedays, they jump in the car and blurt out “3” or “12” before I can even ask the question.
What they don’t realize, is that they are learning to assess performance, identify their personal satisfaction/feelings and problem-solve by recognizing the gap between what they experience and what they want.
The great thing about having two kids with very different strengths assessing most of the same teachers is that a strong positive consensus tells me that the teacher is able to reach a wide-spectrum of abilities. (i.e. if an “A” student and a “C” student both give the teacher a “10” – that’s a good teacher in my book.)
Once I have established the affinity level for the teacher and the primary performance feedback from the kids point of view, I drill into the little details that can make or break classroom success.
These next questions are geared at understanding how my kids experience learning about the subject:
- How is the pace of instruction? Too Fast, Just Right, Too Slow
- Are the materials clear and helpful? Yes or No
- Does the teacher prepare you for tests/quizzes or do you feel unprepared/surprised?
The final set of questions has to do with the kids comfort level in the classroom:
- Does anyone bother you in this class?
- Do you have a friend in this class?
- Do you work in teams in this class?
- Where do you sit in the class relative to the teacher during instruction?
- Do you like where you sit?
- If you could change one thing about the physical classroom, what would you change?
From many poor parent-teacher experiences in the past 12 years, I’ve learned that these questions are vitally important to understanding context.
Examples: Hearing my kid isn’t paying attention, then figuring out they are seated in the back of the classroom by a dripping faucet. OR Finding out that their desk is in glaring sunlight in the afternoon and they get too hot and can’t see the board due to glare.
Without probing into these basic – very basic – areas, I assume they are sitting front and center of the room, comfortably paying attention in a typical classroom. That just isn’t reality. Without asking them directly, kids tend to assume they are powerless over seat assignments, peer distractions, etc. They just have to buck up and deal with it.
But these questions are important; I couldn’t focus sitting next to a guy poking me with a pencil all the time or sit directly under an air vent for an hour. And, neither can they…
At this point, I add any notes/concerns/feedback I have gathered over time. Then I’m ready to share this information at the conference.
I’m looking for three main things:
- Serious Concerns requiring immediate attention (I’ll visit with that teacher first)
- Trends (i.e. always being paired with inattentive/struggling students – in which case I tell the teachers, “This is something I see happening to my kid in science and history, too. It’s a trend.”)
- Alignment (The Ebelings feel this way – do you agree?). Alignment is important because it drives change. Without alignment, nothing will happen. And not being aligned with a teacher has caused me many sleepless nights and rants on the phone to Grandparents. It stinks.
At the conference, I start by saying that I understand they are going to share information with me about my child/children and that I’d like to begin by sharing our feedback with them as well. After the first few conferences with me, they know this is how I roll. It goes very quickly. I don’t dilly dally or try to couch things. It’s time to set the table and figure out what’s what.
I leave grades and academic feedback in the teacher’s hands. That information is available on the website as well so it’s never a shock. Without our checklist, the conference can end up being a statistical data dump – and that has never been particularly insightful for me.
Do I need to review attendance? No. I know how much school they’ve missed and why.
Do I need to hear about grades? Generally not, unless there’s some new data point fresh off the press.
Aside from standardized test performance, most of the teacher feedback is already making it’s way to me via notes in the planner or emails.
My chief concern is understanding what is or isn’t working for my kids in the learning environment and then building on that to augment academic success.
By going through the checklist with the teacher first, we both have a shared context for the data on performance. Just like in life, understanding context is what it’s all about.
And no matter what I’ve heard about my kids in Parent-Teacher Conferences through the years (and I’ve left a few barely blinking back the tears), I know that it basically comes down to this; no one loves, knows, or holds ultimate responsibility for our kids more than my husband and I. And, I never let myself forget that because it really is the ultimate context for the Parent Teacher conference. Because in the end, it’s up to us to raise and guide these darlings through life.