Parents across the country are coming home from their first parent teacher conferences of the 2012-2013 school year. First quarter report cards are being prepared if they have not already been shared, and a second quarter of school is beginning for students everywhere.
The question is…what happens after the first parent teacher conference? How do parents take what the teacher said about areas of strength and areas that need improvement and help their child start a new quarter with confidence and a feeling of progress?
Because here is the thing. Grades are nothing more than marks on a page that measure according to a set of standards and objectives, very specific learning. Grades are not the only indicators of academic success or growth. They are of course a part of it, but they are not the end all and be all when it comes to fostering a love of learning and curiosity in our children.
For example, while in the classroom, I tried to help my students focus on reflecting on that had done well, what they could improve, and what new goals they would like to set without even seeing their report card grades. I did the same when I met with parents at the fall parent teacher conference.
As a parent though, I know this can be a hard line to juggle. We want our children to be the best they can be while still being realistic about their strengths and areas of need.
Here is what I know as someone who has sat on both sides of the parent teacher conference table.
Talking to our children about what we learned about their learning during the conference is important.
If we want our students to see teachers and parents as partners, they have to know that we talk and share stories, ideas, successes and moments of need. We need to ask the critical questions of our teachers about how our children are learning, what their academic succeses have been and what areas could be improved. We need to listen even if we see different characteristics at home, because I can attest to the fact that children demonstrate selected traits in selective locations. The key is how we frame the discussion.
Starting the conference with “It sounds like X and Y are two things you are trying your best with/showing your learning/making progress with” is a great way to start with the positives. Highlighting areas of growth or strength are ways to help our children feel encouraged and positive. Highlighting the strengths not only helps foster their self confidence, but can be used as a tool when then approaching areas that need to improve.
Focusing on constructive areas for growth or improvement can also be framed in a positive light.
Instead of “Why can’t you manage to show self control?” another way to approach an area of need might be “It sounds like one area to work on next quarter might be how you demonstrate self control.” And then…the key to this equation is the follow up question. “How might you do that?” Asking your child to think about concrete ways that the can help positively impact their success makes them an engaged participant. Depending on their answer you are also quickly able to gauge whether or not they might need other help or ideas to work towards this goal.
None of these conversations need to have anything to do with actual grades.
Sure…there is a need for accountability and grading. It helps quantify progress for school systems and can provide baseline data for students and parents. But the moments and in between milestones of achievement that come from day to day learning can foster our children’s thirst and curiosity for learning so much more than keeping track of how many A’s or B’s (or C’s or D’s) than they received on a piece of paper.
You might even use a strength model to help follow up with your child at the end of each day. Our new routine this year has been that the first interaction between Principessa and I as she comes off the school bus (after a hug) is the question: “Tell me two good things that happened in your classroom today?” Starting off with the positive helps put out any fires for inconsequential things that may have happened on the bus or randomly throughout the day (because at least in my house, those little itty bitty things are the things that Principessa remembers and wants to recount with EVERY possible detail) and focuses the end of day reflection in a much more productive way.
Parent teacher conferences can be fabulous ways to engage and foster a partnership with parents, teachers, and students when used as tools to encourage more growth. They can also be frustrating, difficult, and incredibly complex. Following up with our children can only help them as vital members of the team and given them the opportunity to be involved and help empower their own learning.