As I mentioned last month, discussion between students and teachers is essential to getting students to dig deeper into learning. When you think of the parent conference, the discussion that occurs is just as important. It allows you to dig a bit deeper into the students’ lives and allows a parent to get you know a little bit better. It is the element of family engagement that matters for student success.
Research shows that family involvement in education can lead to positive benefits for children, such as increasing attendance, higher academic performance and improved attitudes about school. There are several ways to make the experience beneficial for both.
First, send a message home to parents prior to the conference. This can be an invitation, created by you or by the student, if in the elementary grades, to remind the parent of their conference and that you are looking forward to seeing them. This can also be a letter, a flyer or phone call.
Next, be prepared with student work. Having student portfolios or test folders ready for parents will allow you to discuss any academic areas that of concern. They also allows parents to view their children’s work and see what is being accomplished. Allow the conference to focus on the learning that is occurring. Providing specific strategies to the parents and explaining how to use them provides a way to assist at home. Also providing handouts or reference sheets allow the parents to have something to utilize when they are at home working with their child. This little gesture allows the conference to focus on the connection between school and family.
We know how hard we all work to create classrooms that are inviting and warm. Creating an environment that welcomes parents will allow them to feel at ease when they enter your classroom. This could simply include student work being displayed around the classroom or showing them the areas where their child works. Show parents their child’s seat or desk and allow them to walk around the room to see where their child spends a majority of the day. You might even present an item that was created by the child for them to take home.
Then, while engaged in conversation, allow yourself time to learn more about your student. Be an active listener and ask questions. This is your opportunity to comment on strengths and weaknesses of the students, as well as offering praise for what you have seen. This reassures parents that you value their child and have high expectations for their child. Ask questions pertaining to their likes and dislikes and the child’s learning styles. Allowing parents to share their views on their child’s learning will allow you to learn things that you might not have known.
The connection between school and home is crucial. All parents want the very best for their children, but some parents are reluctant when speaking with teachers. They are trusting you with their most valuable asset, and with so many changes in education, parents want to learn the best ways to assist their child with these changes. It is up to us to begin the dialogue and allow communication to flow between both parties. The Harvard Family Research Project created the following principles when thinking about a great parent-teacher conference.
- Be heard
- Best intentions assumed
- Emphasis on learning
- Home-school connection
- Examples and evidence
- Active listening
- Respect for all
- Dedication to follow-up
Allow parents to be heard and allow yourself to be heard. Keeping the lines of communication open after the conference has ended will allow parents to see just how valuable their child is to you. I wish you all positive parent conferences with nothing but successful outcomes for all.
Even seasoned professionals like all of us reading these pages are the first to admit that despite our greatest preparations, creativity and planning, very often the most important lessons in life are not learned in the classroom at all. I love the quote, “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he just let me watch him and learn.” I’m sure we all have wonderful souls like that in our lives, and I am blessed to have many more than one. Chris Bertha, our school secretary and office administrator “extraordinaire” is one of those people in my life. She is a very recent breast cancer survivor and it is my pleasure to pay her tribute.
In her own words, she was, to say the least, devastated by the diagnosis of breast cancer. She said she was first in shock, followed with the intense fear of the unknown and the pain ahead of her. Looking back, she says she was sure of only one thing: that she didn’t have the strength to go through the Herculean process of cancer treatment. But it goes to say that one of the very first lessons cancer teaches you is that you never realize how strong you are until put to the test. She immediately underwent two consecutive surgeries to prepare for the poisonous chemotherapy, which is literally bringing your body as close to death as possible.
Chris refers to our building as her “school family.” And a family we are. I organized a dinner rotation for her family, and, as the chemo tore through her body, it obliterated her appetite and often gave her incredibly painful mouth sores. So the last thing she wanted to worry about was cooking a dinner for her husband and son, and naturally, that made her feel guilty! So the dinners at least eliminated that one problem, and her “partner in crime,” Kim, the other office expert, would often even drop them off on the days Chris couldn’t make it into school. Our physical education and health educator gave Chris her “premier” parking spot since walking was also very painful. Chris goes on to say that the shoulders to cry on and the ears that listened, as well as the encouragement and understanding at our school, was priceless.
Following the chemo, she also had to endure seven weeks of radiation, which burned her skin terribly and left her with dangerously low energy amounts. Despite all this physical and emotional brutality, Danielle, our second grade educator vehemently insists that “even when she wasn’t at 100 percent, she always gave 100 percent.” And Joanne, a school aid, went on to describe her as an “inspiration with her don’t-quit attitude.”
Chris’ smile is now always mentioned when we think about these days. Kristin and Jaime, primary grade teachers both, claim that “in her darkest hours, she always gave you a smile, even when she didn’t feel like smiling herself.” Personally, I was going through a difficult divorce at the height of the time when Chris was going through her treatment, and she would let me rant and rave, and then without fail and without even saying a word, I would humbly put my priorities back in order. Another peer of mine, Kristi, felt a similar way when she described Chris as, “a calm to the sometimes overwhelming chaos in our office”.
But perhaps it is apropos that one of our speech specialists seems to sum it up simply the best by saying, “We are fortunate to have her….still. Today, Chris is finished with treatment… and healthy.”
So with these thoughts in mind during this month of breast cancer awareness, take the time to let another “pink” survivor know how grateful you are that they are one, too.