If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Parent Conferences: A Success Story

Friday was parent conferences here at school. For most teachers, there is always some anxiety when it comes time to meet the parents. Parent meetings are evaluation time, not just for the kids, but for the teachers and parents, too. This is when we all find out how well we've been doing our jobs, and there is always that chance that the evaluation is not going to go well for someone. When the meeting goes badly, it can go very badly, and I think many teachers go into the day with their defenses up against that possibility. All of us have our war stories of one sort or another. In private schools, where the parents often see themselves as the paying customers, the pressure is particularly high to prove that you are delivering the quality product the parents are expecting.

On this occasion, conferences went pretty well for me. My current position is as a long-term substitute for a teacher who had to leave unexpectedly back in November. By the time I started here at the end of January, I was the third Spanish teacher of the year for my students, with who knows how many short-term substitutes in the meantime. Most of the parents I met with on Friday were just happy that there had been a consistent warm body in the class for the last few months.

One of my meetings was with the mother of one of my fifth graders, Bill. Bill is struggling in my class, which always increases the chances that the conversation will be uncomfortable, but in this case it was very productive. I mentioned my concerns, not only for his performance this year, but also going into the more challenging middle school curriculum that starts here in sixth grade. We talked about things we could all be doing to improve things now, and things he might do over the summer to prepare for sixth grade. We finished the meeting with a basic plan to move forward.

My first class today was with the fifth grade. Bill was like a completely different kid this morning. He raised his hand to answer questions, instead of sitting like a lump in his chair, and generally gave the correct answers. He seemed happy, confident, and prepared for class, the first time all year I would have described him as any of those things. He'd also had his hair cut. Maybe it was all just the haircut.

Now I know that it was just one class, and that it's a long road still to June, and an even longer one to get through sixth grade Spanish and beyond; but something positive clearly took place from Friday to today, and whatever it was started with a ten minute conversation with Bill's mom.

So, here's my thought for the day. It takes a team to educate a child, and parents are probably, or at least hopefully, the most important member of that team. The better the communication between school and parents, and the greater the parents' involvement in their children's education, the stronger that education is going to be. As we build our school, we are going to need formal structures to get parents involved in, and knowledgeable about, their children's education. Sometimes they will be able to help their kids in ways we just can't.

What do you do, or would you do, to get parents involved in your school community?

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