As Your Attorney In This Matter...

Take the dread out of parent-teacher conferences for students by becoming their "advisor" and helping them answer questions from parents.

Photo of James Fester
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Going to the Source - (UPDATED 4/17/16)

I had a chance to discuss with some of my students what they felt about parent-teacher conferences and they all had similar feelings. One thought that they all shared was that parent-teacher conferences were a chance to "get caught" in an area they were lacking in. They felt that they rarely ended in favor of the student and were less likely to participate in them as a result. 

I asked if there was anything that could be done to get them more involved. They said, "only if they knew what was coming" and "Felt like it was fair going in" These are all hallmarks of this idea, and would ensure greater student participation. 

See the original idea below!

"Respect what your partner has created and start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you." - Tina Fey

I have a confession to make. When I was a students, I HATED parent-teacher conferences. 

I did not have a positive view of parent-teacher conferences when I was the same age as my middle school students. I viewed them as something to fear as I thought I had nobody on my side once they began. I would have done anything to avoid them, and when I couldn't I sat there, staring at the table and muttering single word answers, hoping the pain would just stop.

So remembering back to those awful memories, I recently thought to myself, "what if every student who participated in a parent-teacher conference knew they had an advocate in that room with them once they entered?" Would they be more likely to actually speak? Would they dread it less than I did? 

My idea begins with a simple proposition; teachers should first and foremost be advocates for their students. In my revised model for parent-teacher conferences, parents ask questions from a set list and students answer them, show work samples, and think about their journey as learners with the support of teachers who help them to find evidence of their learning.

Teachers would become attorney's or advisors in the sense that they would be tasked with only adding on to whatever their student said, giving greater control of the flow of the meeting over to the student. Parents could still ask probing questions to reveal areas of improvement and challenges, but greater care would be taken to formulate questions in a more positive manner. 

In this model the fear of being cornered or tricked is removed but above all else students know that they have an adult in the room who is there to support them. It would improve their relationship with their student and help them to feel more confident advocating for themselves and sharing their academic successes. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

Students feel that they would be more willing to participate authentically if they knew that teachers had the goal of only going off what they said and adding to comments they made or questions they knew were coming. Parents also felt that being able to have students present and participatory would make conferences more meaningful and less of a mysterious thing to be feared.

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Photo of Molly McMahon

James -- love this personal story and perspective to get the Collaboration started! Makes me wonder what do students want from the relationship between their teachers and parents? How might we include students in that dialogue Could be cool to talk to some students and hear their insights as well. (AND... I saw first had how amazing your kids are!!) 

Thanks for getting us going!!