This past week, I had my very first experience with parent-teacher conferences. I am so fortunate that I only have 13 students, because orchestrating the schedule was such a challenge! The parental relationships in my school are sometimes complicated, so I had to arrange things so that families who shouldn’t run into each other wouldn’t run into each other.
At my school, our conferences are student-led, meaning that the student, and not the teacher, is really the director of the show. During class, I explained the format to my students and we brainstormed a list of things that they could share with their parents — their autobiography projects, their Mad Minute folders with data charts, their spelling word folders, their “Good Learner Goal Sheets,” their portfolios, and their independent math learning rubrics. I left this list up on the white board so that when my students arrived, they would know exactly what to do.
During the conferences, I had two families come for each 30-minute time slot. They each spent 20 minutes having their student share work with them and then 10 minutes talking with me and their student. It is was interesting to watch my students interact with their parents — and to see how their parents interacted with them. In many ways, it explained an awful lot. It was so fascinating to watch kids become more shy or more outgoing or less focused than they are in class. I almost wished that I could have just observed them rather than having to talk with the families — I probably would have learned more than I did during our conversations.
The overall reaction amongst the parents seemed to be “holy cow, you’ve been doing a lot of serious work in here!” Many of the parents seem to have come around to the idea that the high expectations in my classroom are a good thing. They seemed really impressed by how articulate their children were in their explanations of what we do in class. Others, however, seemed dismayed that the conferences were student-led at all and seemed to think that it was all too much. I’ve heard that there is talk in the community at the moment about whether the expectations in my second-grade room are too-high. (Frankly, I am pretty excited that they are talking about this!) It seems that I’ve got some great advocates amongst my parents — and I think that all of my kids rising to the challenge is the best evidence for which I could ask!
Have you ever had a situation where parents think that the work in your classroom is too demanding? How did you handle it? I personally find that we often underestimate what kids can do, but this can be a hard message to transmit to parents who don’t buy into that philosophy.