By PAUL WENNINGER / Currey Ingram Academy
Fall is about pumpkins (and pumpkin-flavored everything, it seems), football, brightly colored leaves, the World Series, and parent-teacher conferences. At least that’s how I see it.
In the world of schools and parents and kids, conferences are a big deal. They can be a time for getting to know your teacher, learning about your child’s progress and/or, at times, for learning that your child needs help.
As a head of school and principal (and a parent of two daughters), I want to support the position that the most important part of the conference experience is, “What happens next?” My ideas can all be expanded on, but this is a good list to keep around to remind everyone involved (partner, children, friends, grandparents, etc.) of how to use what you learn in a conference.
Conferences are a place to start, they are not a final judgment. Teachers want children to succeed, and the observations they make are intended to help the child (and family) view the potential for success. Conferences are designed to set goals, not dash expectations and hope. Your child’s comments about their teacher’s comments may help you see any disconnects between child and teacher. Listen to your child about their education in a family “conference” after your conference.
2.) Be the parent; let the teacher be the teacher. Your child wants two things from you (not including a new iPad), and they are totally deliverable. Children want to know what the boundaries/expectations are, and they want to know that you care about them. We cannot teach our children everything they need to know about math and history. The teacher’s approval is not the same as a parent’s approval. If a child feels as though you only love them when they get good grades, your relationship is in trouble.
The information you received is valuable. Whether you “like” the teacher or not, they are professional in their ability to view your child’s grasp of knowledge. They are also very valuable in identifying barriers to that grasp of knowledge. Value the teacher’s observations enough to go back and ask specific questions about how to accomplish or respond to their observations about your child. Be specific. Is more drill encouraged? Are study habits sufficiently developed? Go back to ask the questions that you want to know the answers to but were afraid to ask. If the answers lead you toward an area of deficit for your child, consider pursuing more information about that area. There are also times were the investment of a diagnostic work-up is well worth the effort. Ask the teacher about this or talk to friends who have gone down this path.
4.) Your child’s emotional, cognitive and social growth is not on a well-structured, predictable time-table. In young children, the window for skill acquisition can be two years in some cases. Reports from your child may range from “class is boring” to “the work is too hard.” Much like their physical growth, your child’s academic progress may occur in fits and starts. Refer back to the conference. Most of all, watch your child for signs of early success and compliment their effort along the way. Knowing the developmental “milestones” for each age is also good idea. Seek out this information if you do not already know it. Your teacher can provide this to you in many cases.
5.) Talk to your child about the conference. Conference topics are opportunities for families to talk about educational expectations and standards. Keep it positive. In the end, it is your child that is going to school. Yet, this is your chance to show interest in what they are learning, to partner with them in their efforts to achieve, and to support them in any areas that are hard.
6.) Life is long. Perfection is rare. Belief in your child gives lifelong returns. Conferences are a really good source of clues to your child’s success. Conferences are designed to give parents a chance to participate with schools. That teamwork, collaboration, partnership – whatever descriptor you are most comfortable with – is a message to your child that both the school and the family care, and that the school experience is important.
At Currey Ingram, conferences are a big part of what we do. Because we offer individualized learning plans for every student, we sit down with parents four times a year, for an hour each time. The entire team participates. We discuss, share ideas and, ultimately, step forward together. This model may not be your experience, but I assure you that you can achieve partnership, shared understanding, and progress by using your own conference information and your teacher’s professional expertise as resources in your efforts to help your child succeed in school and in life.
Paul Wenninger is Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy. “Extra Credit” is provided each month by Currey-Ingram Academy to help parents at all schools and at all stages of the parenting journey.
Currey Ingram Academy is a private K-12 day school for bright students with learning differences and unique learning styles. For more information, click here.Ã‚Â