Things I Know 277 of 365: Parent conferences can be student conferences

It is critical that both parent and teacher know that the goals for the child are indeed shared goals, both teacher and parent want what is best for the child/student.

– Sue

Twice each year, the folks at SLA sit down with their advisees and their advisees’ parents and have a discussion of each student’s progress. It’s not an unfamiliar process, but the structures at SLA are different than those I’d experienced in any previous schools I’d attended or taught in.

Growing up, my parents would disappear two nights each year to meet with my teachers.

Upon their return, we would all sit at the kitchen table where my mom would work teacher-by-teacher beginning each review with, “What do you think she had to say about you?”

A torturous process in the moment, I see now what she was trying to do and the habits of mind she was attempting to build.

Last year, at SLA, I felt as though I’d finally gotten my vision of these conferences to line up with the actual practice.

The key was to prep our advisees as much as possible. In years prior, I’d told my advisees they would be responsible for leading the conference discussions, but failed to give them adequate practice in anticipating what they might want to say and how they would make the conversations run as effectively as possible.

How would they steer their parents clear of obsessing over the one low grade to the exclusion of the other A’s and B’s? If the narratives and report cards fell short of their own explanations, how did they plan to reverse course in subsequent quarters?

I’d forgotten my time and training as a teacher had provided me with myriad ways to navigate these waters.

Childhood, adolescence and schooling had provided my students with two strategies – But mom… and (silence).

Neither proved tremendously effective in fostering a discussion or ownership of learning.

Diana asked me earlier today if I had written anything about what made last year’s conferences so successful. I hadn’t. Here it is.

  1. My co-advisor Matt Kay and I showed our advisees both their report cards and narrative report cards in the advisories prior to the conferences. We asked them to compare the grades on the report cards with the comments from the corresponding teachers’ narratives. What did they notice? What surprised them? What made them feel seen? What did they want to highlight with their parents?
  2. Each advisee filled in a table with columns labeled, “What I want to stay the same,” “What I want to change,” “How I’m going to change it.”
  3. Looking at their report cards, their narratives, and their tables, our advisees planned the flow of their conferences. Matt and I offered guiding questions. Would it be better for your parents to hear disappointing news earlier or later? Does it make more sense to show your report card before your narratives or the other way around?
  4. Once it was planned, we asked one student to volunteer for a mock conference where two other advisees played the parents. The rest of us watched. After the mock conference, the whole advisory debriefed and reflected on possible topics or situations we saw that might come up in their own conferences and how they could be approached.
  5. On the day of the conference, the students were the leaders. Matt and I had digital copies of the narratives and report cards, but we kept mum. The entire time, my internal monologue was, “Shut up, Zac. Your only job is to support.”

When all was said and done, I saw more student ownership and parent-child conversation along with teacher restraint in last year’s conferences than any others I’ve been a part of.

How do you conference?

One thought on “Things I Know 277 of 365: Parent conferences can be student conferences

  1. This was such an amazing process and showed us a side of SC that we’d never seen before. The experience really highlighted how much she had learned in a way that mere grades never could. Thank you. (and we really missed you this year!)

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