October is a great month to reflect on relationships. Developing a community of learners requires that we focus on building relationships with students, and it’s a large part of what we do in the fall. I’m also reminded how important it is that put energy into building relationships with our students’ parents. We value a team approach to education, and our parents are an important piece of that equation.
Earlier this month we had our Parent Teacher Conferences. Based on the time that we commit to this endeavor, we clearly value them. My co-teachers and I made sure to follow up with every family who hadn’t initiated a conference so that we could meet with each one. Most of them we conducted in the day and half that our schedule allocated for conferences. The rest we scheduled during our shared prep time while students are at specials. We have one last conference to conduct … and now we are beginning to write report cards.
I was struck by how much we learned from parents. We gleaned history about last school year that helped us better understand the behavior that we’re seeing this year with some students. We’ve already used that knowledge to guide us both in how we talk with those students and what kind of follow up we provide to parents. We’ve learned with some parents that we need to be in close contact to best support a child through a challenging emotional situation. We’ve learned communication preferences for certain families. While many are happy to share thoughts through email, there are some for whom a phone call is the first choice. We’ve learned about family dynamics and learning history that shed new light on students. We’ve even explored the possibility of doing further diagnostic testing to give us more information about a student’s learning needs.
All of this is only possible because we make time to talk with parents. We enjoy meeting with them informally at our back to school grade level parent party as well as at school events. It is also crucial that we listen with open ears. We went into conferences with specific schemas about kids; that makes sense because we’re trying to construct a picture of who they are as learners. Parents’ insights and observations expand our ideas if we listen and make room for their thoughts. It’s gratifying when our hunches and observations match up with home experiences. When it doesn’t, I’m motivated to dig deeper and explore why it’s different.
Now as I begin writing report card narratives, I’m confident that there will be no surprises. We discussed challenges that students may be having with behavior, friendships, and academics, and we celebrated growth and learning that has already occurred. I find that the preparation that I do to get ready for conferences actually lays the groundwork for report card narratives. I celebrate developing strong relationships with students and parents!
(A note about the image – My students create Heart Maps in the fall to represent the people, places, and things that are important to them. I love how this shows the connected people in a child’s family. It’s how I envision our team of support for every student, a team that includes parents.)