Parent-Teacher Conferences and Parental Expectations for Children

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.

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Bridging the Gap Between Home and School: Designing a Literacy Intervention

I am really passionate about and interested in home-school relationships. So far in my classroom, I’ve been doing everything that I can think of to get information out to my students’ parents about what we’re doing in class and how they can help out at home. All of my weekly homework assignments require the involvement of a parent to help to build in opportunities for my students and their parents to grapple with academic material at home. I also send home a bi-weekly newsletter and maintain a parent website: https://sites.google.com/site/newsfrommisshewes/.

Yet, despite all of this, I still have students who are struggling to show their understanding of the material they are supposed to be covering at home. We had our first spelling test on Thursday, and even though my students had a month to practice their words at home with their parents (and I sent home reminders), I had over the half of my students spell more than half of the words incorrectly. (The words were taken from the second-grade list, so they were not extraordinarily difficult.)

Late this week and throughout this weekend, I’ve been thinking about what the disconnect might be between the parents saying that they are working hard with their students and the lackluster performance of their students. It occurred to me that just as we don’t hold our students accountable for content that we haven’t taught them, we also should not hold parents accountable for teaching their students things if they have never been instructed on how to effectively work on academic material at home.

To this end, I’ve spent the last few days working on a home literacy packet that I’ll be sending home with each of my students on Monday. I also plan to try to disseminate this information and model these practices with my parents in a workshop format, for those who want to attend. My packet is titled, “A Menu for a Healthy Home-Reading Diet” and emphasizes that just as a healthy diet requires eating from a variety of different food groups, becoming a healthy reader requires having many different experiences with texts.

Here’s a glimpse at what the menu looks like:

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I sent home a notice last week that informed my parents how their student had done on our benchmark assessments and included items that gauged their interest in learning more about how to support their child’s literacy development at home. Unfortunately (but predictably), the greatest interest so far has been shown by the parents of the students that are already thriving in terms of literacy. I’m hoping to reach the parents of the struggling readers with my packet — I hope that it will prove successful!

What strategies do you use for engaging your more reluctant parents? I’d love to hear suggestions and comments!

P.S. If you are interested, my complete literacy packet is available for download on Teacherspayteachers. I am just getting started on this site, but I appreciate the way that it opens the doors of different classrooms and helps to break down teacher isolation and celebrates the great work that teachers are doing every day!