Over the course of the next month, conferences will be held for and with students from both of our campuses. These conferences offer an opportunity to check in on each student’s start to the school year, to look at the student’s educational outcomes and progress so far, and to set goals for the remainder of the year. Beyond simply looking at a recounting of how the student has performed on classwork or a MAP test, the conferences allow for deeper discussion and understanding of the student as a thinker, a communicator, an artist, a person.
While the format of these conferences at ANCS looks different depending upon the age of the student with students themselves leading the conferences once they reach middle school, one constant is the presence of both the student’s parent/caregiver and the student’s teacher. These adults know the student in important but different ways, and in order to work together effectively on behalf of the student during a conference, there are some aspects of this relationship to keep at the forefront of our minds:
Recognize what each person brings to the discussion: In a book titled The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other, the author, educator, and parent Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote about the natural tension that can sometimes arise in the relationship between parents—who are most interested in the their own specific child—and teachers—who are engaged in the deeply personal work of teaching a classroom full of students (you can read this short interview with Lawrence-Lightfoot to get a better sense of this and/or watch this longer talk she gave to really understand her ideas). Near the end of The Essential Conversation, Lawrence-Lightfoot writes “productive dialogue requires that both teachers and parents…see the necessary and crucial claims of each other’s position. Each must respect and value what the other knows and sees; each must attend carefully and listen deeply to the perspective and wisdom that the other brings.” As a teacher, hearing and appreciating what the parent sees and knows about her daughter from raising her is critical to supporting the student’s growth at school. As a parent, really listening to a trained educator’s perspective on what your daughter is doing at school can really help you to know how to reinforce learning at home.
This is the student’s conference: Especially in middle school when students are leading the conference, it is important to let the student be the center of the conversation. But even if the student isn’t physically present in the room, he should always be present and the focus of the conversation. Lawrence-Lightfoot describes a tendency for the “ghosts” of our own experience in school as children to haunt parent-teacher conferences by causing us to reflect upon our past as a way of understanding our student’s (or child’s) present. But our student (or child) is different and unique from us and therefore his school experience will also be different and unique, so the attention in a conference should be squarely placed on his needs rather than on what school was like for us.
Don’t make the conference the only time you talk: At ANCS, there are two formal conference times each school year–one in the fall, another in the spring. But teachers and parents shouldn’t save their conversations with one another for only these times. There is much to communicate about throughout the school year, and teachers and parents should be encouraged to reach out to one another to share good news, ask a question, or just to check in about the student. Whether an email, a phone call, or a face-to-face chat, each of these help to build the healthy, productive relationship our students need us to have to support them in their development as learners and as kind, competent human beings.