How would you re-imagine your parents teacher conference?

Eniola and Eya's views about the importance of keeping parents engaged and how.

Photo of Uzo Agyare-Kumi
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Eya from Tunisia

"What’s one thing you wish your school could do to better connect your family into your learning experiences?"

The truth is, my parents never took interest in talking to the teachers about my performance in class. In the minds of many parents, transcripts are enough to measure how well their children are doing in school.

Unfortunately, this only supports a system based on grades, rather than creativity and innovation.

Here are some of ideas I think the school could introduce in order to involve my parents in my learning experience:

1-Informing my parents on my impact inside and outside classes. This can be through the projects I have presented, essays I have written or even ideas I have introduced. For instance, I would have loved it if my school teachers actually took time to showcase some of my work during parent-teacher conferences or  even invite them during class presentations.

2-Another way is having a "Parent-Teacher Council". This way, parents can take action and help design the new school services, from dining to curriculum.

3-This is very much related to ALA: My parents do not understand the transcripts sent to them since they are written in English and the scaling system is very different. This makes it impossible for them to actually understand what I am doing in school. We can offer parents'orientation in the beginning of the year, where parents learn about the school system, the different activities, etc. This should be provided in various languages.

4-We can involve parents within our assignments. One example is interviewing them about different topics "How do you view the IT generation?", "What do you think about writing in colonial languages?", etc.

5-Strengthening communication: Not only by newsletters and emails, but by directly reaching to both the parents and the students. Parents have different expectations, socio-economic backgrounds and schedules. Having a direct "check-in" that involves both parties (students and parents) does not only reveal the relationship between them to the teachers/counselors, but also guide them towards solving issues that might arise. We do not need phone calls just to announce bad news. They can be used to inform the progress the son/daughter is making in class, to listen to their opinion about the subject choice, to get feedback on the school services, etc.

As much as I recognise the difficulty of involving parents, especially when they live on the other side of the continent, innovation and the use of modern technologies makes it possible to be connected more than ever.

Eniola from Nigeria

1.Tell me about the last time your parent met with one of your teachers. What was that like?

It was on the occasion of graduation at my alma mater that my parents spoke to my geography teacher who they had cultivated a strong relationship with over the years. As a graduating student, it was a neutral feeling to see my parents conversing with him about my progress. Other times, it had been slightly uncomfortable for me while I was still a student. This was mainly because, due to his relationship with my parents, he thought he had an obligation to ‘school father’ me in a sense, which though I appreciated, I did not particularly like.

2. Was there ever a time when you didn’t like the way your parents were invited into your learning experience? If so, why?

For five out of the six years in my secondary, parent-teacher conferences assumed a rather public approach to celebrating excellence. We had what is called a ‘role call’ where the best five students (in order) in every class were paraded in front of an audience of guardians, parents and teachers. Classes were similarly grouped according to academic achievement, for example, Jss2a1 having the highest achievers and Jss2a4 having the least academically strong students. My secondary school in Nigeria presented a very competitive atmosphere. On a projector screen, besides the names and positions would be the overall percentage of the student. To be honest, I did enjoy this format of parent-teacher conferences because I was one of the strongest students, so I liked the recognition. However, in retrospect, it was a very harsh and public way to celebrate excellence, discouraging weaker students instead of celebrating the improvements they had made. It also encouraged a culture of academic hostility between the girls which I experienced as well as part took in.

In the last year of secondary school, when a new school counsellor from India joined the school, the format of parent-teacher conferences changed drastically. The roll call stopped completely and each session would entail a general briefing of the academic calendar and private meetings between students and their guardians. Teachers were available for meetings as well. We would have notebooks stacked on each table and a parent was entitled to go through them. Another change is that the classes were no longer segregated according to academic strength.

I wouldn’t say I hated the previous format but I do acknowledge that it had a tremendous number of shortcomings that must have affected the esteem of many students – and even parents.

In comparison, parent-teacher conferences in primary school in the United Kingdom were much like the format that my alma mater adapted to within my last year of school there. We had open evenings which were a lot more casual. Our books were spread out and our best creative pieces displayed for our parents to admire. However, I think the format of teacher conference in my primary school was widely influenced by the fact that the students were young and that the school system involved a lot less academic rigour. However, I would say that I wish that an environment to thrive was put in place to enable students to explore their academic potential. I would say that an incentive system was barely existent. Good conduct instead of academic excellence was rewarded. While there is no problem in rewarding good behaviour I feel a lot could have been done to incentivise the learning system- perhaps not through parent-teacher conferences but through another medium.

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Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Uzo, Thank you so much for these thoughtful interviews with students. I find it interesting how similar these stories are to those of American students. Eya's strategies for getting parents more involved and making the meetings more meaningful are excellent. Students should definitely be a part of the redesign process. Themes that came out were the need for better communication and deeper relationships. Looking forward to seeing ideas develop from these interviews!