Thursday, November 9, 2017

Parent Teacher Conferences: Making Them Work

The home-school connection is a vital component of education.    When school and home share the same philosophy and approach to learning, children thrive.  Parents and teachers become partners. They work in tandem for the benefit of the children. By  communicating openly with each other, they enable seamless guidance and support for the child in both environments.   The key ingredient to making it all work?  Trust. 

Developing trust takes time.  Teachers gain parents' trust when they reach out at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves, to let parents know how their children are adjusting to the new school year, to share information about their availability for calls or emails.  They can write newsletters or blogs to keep parents up to date on class happenings and upcoming events.  They can share photos and anecdotes with parents, giving a peek into their child's school experiences.  They take the time to get to know the child, and find ways to communicate that to parents.

Parents  gain teachers' trust when they respond to requests for supplies or information; when they make sure their child comes to school on time, well rested and well fed; when they let the teacher know of any extenuating circumstances at home that may affect the child's behavior in school; when they keep a sick child at home.  A parent who demonstrates respect for school rules and culture is the ideal partner in a child's education.

Parent Teacher Conferences are brief meetings at which teachers  share their observations of a child's performance in class, and parents  give feedback about how they see their child responding to the learning program.  Teachers can show work samples and discuss ways in which the child relates to classmates and activities.  Parents may have questions about areas of specific interest to their child.  The teacher is an expert in working with groups of children; the parent is an expert in his own child.   Both have valuable information that can facilitate the child's healthy development.

Any behavioral or academic concerns ought to be addressed prior to the Parent Teacher Conference.  If the teacher notices that a student struggles to complete tasks, for example, the first thing she does is keep a log of her observations, to try to find a pattern.  Does he finish some tasks but not others?  Are there distractions?  Is the work too easy? Too hard?  Once she identifies a pattern, she can take steps to remediate.  She contacts the parent to  explain her concerns, her observations, and the steps she is taking to help.  She can ask for reinforcement at home, and/or find out if the parents have a better strategy.  

Behavioral issues are often more difficult to address.  Parents are naturally very protective of their children, and may be quick to blame the school for any reported behavior problems.  This is where trust becomes critical.  If a parent trusts that the teacher understands and appreciates his child; if the teacher communicates her concerns through a lens of caring and is using positive strategies to address the child's behaviors, the parent and teacher are more likely to work together in the child's best interests.  Naming a problem is not enough.  Placing blame is not enough.  The goal is to understand the child's individual needs and temperament, and to find ways to accommodate those needs and that temperament within the classroom.  It's hard work, and  requires teachers and parents to pool their knowledge and plan accordingly.

There are no surprises at Parent Teacher Conferences.  Any issues have been discussed beforehand.  At these meetings, teachers and parents can share their pride in a child's achievements. Parents get a little window into their child's life away from them. Teachers and parents share snippets of the child's personality in action.  And they marvel at the amazing privilege of` having a hand in the growth and development of a precious child.

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