Yesterday (11/21/2019) began a series of three sessions reserved for the faculty to meet with parents (Note 1) that wished to talk to us about their students' progress. Two of these sessions were schedule on Thursday (one during the second half of the school day, one in the early evening) and the last during the second half of the day on Friday.
The Home and School group, CHS's equivalent to a parent-teacher association, sponsored a catered dinner during our two-hour break between the Thursday sessions. This affirms for me the importance of quality communication between the school and our students. While free dinner is nice, it is a tangible manifestation of parents and teachers supporting one another. While at dinner, I made a point of going to each of the Home and School members there to thank them and to talk about my student teaching experiences thus far. [4d/f]
After dinner, but before returning for the evening session, I participated the BARWE (Building Anti-Racist White Educators) meeting [4a/e/f]. We discussed scenarios in which we as educators had preconceptions about a minority student, or when a minority student came to class with a great deal “baggage” or “backstory” was the student carrying into the classroom. We then discussed these scenarios and gave each other feedback and alternative perspectives. I discussed my interactions with a a male student in one of my classes. Last month he was displaced from his home for being gay. I am not aware of the particulars, but I identified a lot with that student. This student decided to transfer to online school the following week. I was disappointed that I would not be there to continue to support this student but am hopeful that they are in a happier environment that is a great deal more within their control.
Getting back to the conferences themselves, we had a total of 20 student represented over the three sessions. Mr. G. lead the first few sessions, then I took over from there. I started by asking the parents if there was anything specific, they wanted to talk about, that way I could make sure to address their questions or concerns. Most parents came prepared with their notes/questions.
As we addressed their initial questions, I would pull up relevant documents, like Infinite Campus, attendance records, Test #4 (that I had just finished grading), etc. [4b/c/f]. That way I could back up my assessment of the students with artifacts. I made a point of talking positively about the students. Not just because it is polite, but there are genuine positive traits that every single student has, even my “troublemakers”. I would also give parents things that their student could work on as their personal learning goal. This ranged from putting more effort into formwork, seeking out our peer tutoring program, you name it. To the parents of students that I thought were particularly advanced I would ask them to “lobby” their student to become a peer tutor.
The tutoring program just started today (12/3), so not enough time has passed to see which of my student become tutors or which ones sign up for touring. I will unfortunately not be at Central long enough to see the effect of parent teacher conferences. However, I expect student that attend in either capacity to have a noticeable increase in their performance (both their grades and in soft skills like scientific discourse, self-confidence, and persistence).
By asking parents to ask their students to join the tutoring program, I am accomplishing many things within Domain 2 and 4. I am fostering a classroom climate with a growth mindset, cooperative learning, and sharing available resources from proficient students to novice students. I could potentially return some of my working time in school to other areas that at times can become neglected. It also has the added benefit of demonstrating to the parent that, although I am only with their students for a short amount of time, I am an advocate for them, and I take their students’ learning seriously.
Moving forward, I hope to utilize the things I learned about the students from their parents. For example, the parent of the student that runs the “official” CHS meme Instagram account gave me explicit permission to take their phone away for the day. This is something that I had been hesitant to do, merely out of principal. But having that affirmation from the parent gives me more authority with the student. Also, I would like to see how I can engage more parents. I only spoke with parents of 20 students. Perhaps I could have sent home monthly or biweekly updates to the parents. Perhaps I could have invited the parents of students that were really struggling, 504s/IEPs, or had behavioral issues. It I difficult to manage this as a high school student teacher, simply because there are so many students and parents are very polarized in their level of interest or disinterest with their progress.
1) I use “parent” throughout this post in such a way to include grandparents, other relatives, family friends, foster parents, and all other form of legal guardianship. An old adage that my family uses quite frequently is “it takes a village”. All roles in our children’s lives/learning are all crucial, and it presents itself in and endless set of shapes and sizes. I intend “parent” to only be used as an editorial convenience as opposed to a limiting factor.