During week ten of my internship I had the opportunity to sit-in on four parent-teacher conferences. I gained a wealth of insight into the collaboration process of parents and teachers to build a strong bridge between home and school. I have been observing, and assisting as my mentor prepared for the conferences over the past few weeks with formative assessments, and meetings with our K/1 team and instructional coach. Her hard work and mindful consideration culminated in an ability to paint a clear picture of each child’s school life for parents. Parents, in turn, had valuable information to share about their children’s learning needs, and their hopes for their children’s social/emotional and academic growth.
I am choosing to focus on one illuminating point of each of the four conferences. The first being a First-grade child who is struggling with reading. The parents are planning to have him be assessed for possible dyslexia. The second conference was for a Kindergarten girl whose family is new to our school (this is important to note because we have a Preschool program). This girl’s family is wanting to ensure that they help her with Mathematics at home. Next, there was a conference for a First-grade boy whose parents are concerned with the child’s display of learned helplessness when he doesn’t, “get something right” with his writing. And finally, we conferred with the parents of a Kindergarten girl whose family is also new to our school who brought up the concern of not letting her daughter know that she is smart. By the way, she is smart.
My mentor began by having the father of the First-grade boy who is struggling with reading speak about their perception of his son in school. One concern that arose was his son’s lack of sharing about school in the home space. My mentor assured him that this boy works so hard when he is at school, and most likely wants to keep his recreational time sacred. The father agreed with this assessment. In addressing the boy’s reading challenges my mentor focused on his confidence and love for learning reading. She shared that often when children know that they are receiving the extra support they need; they improve greatly in the area of challenge. My mentor shared this child’s tremendous growth in reading: he is having success with Wired for Reading, a linguistic-based reading program that was designed by a woman who has dyslexia; and he displays great stamina during read-to-self time; and he loves his one-on-one time with our Reading Specialist twice a week. Then, the father wanted to know if this boy is still behind the curve in his reading development. My mentor answered yes, that with all his hard work he still continues to show a gap in where we would like to see him, and where he is with reading development. She said that she would support this boy’s future assessment for dyslexia. In my perception, the father’s response was one of relief and validation. In closing, the father wanted some strategies for supporting his son’s literacy over holiday break. My mentor suggested continuing to read to him; letting him read voluntarily; and experiential writing, such as thank you letters.
Our second conference was with the Kindergarten girl’s parents who are wanting to find ways to support her to be a strong mathematician. My mentor suggested mathematizing her world. She qualified this by describing ways that the family could go beyond numbers, and into exploring spatial sense. For example, thinking aloud together while packing a suitcase about how many items will fit into the space and how. It was the mother that asked for ways to be supporting their daughter mathematically. The father made a remark about how much more academic Kindergarten has become since he was a Kindergartener. She said, “welcome to the 21st century!” and we all laughed. I think it is a sign of progress, and incredibly inspiring, to see parents who are adopting strategies to support their daughter in mathematics at age five.
Next, we met with the parents of our First-grade student who is experiencing some emotional challenges with wanting his work, particularly his writing to be “perfect”. My mentor started off by sharing how much this boy has grown in confidence and leadership during his second year in this K/1 classroom. His parents both shared a concern that about this student becomes emotional when he feels he is not doing something “perfect”. The mother shared her perception that he has a sense of learned helplessness due to her history of coming to the rescue right away when he is grappling with a task. Learned helplessness is a new challenge in my work. I am just becoming aware of children in my class who have this struggle. I plan to research strategies for helping children who struggle with learned helplessness. When this boy is sitting and staring at an empty piece of writing paper with look of distress, I would like to be equipped to help him. I know that children exhibit that they are helpless in order to get attention they crave. If a child craves attention, I want to give it to them, but not to the detriment of their learning growth.
Finally, we met with another Kindergarten class member’s parents. This girl is ahead of the curve academically, and has an easy time relating with peers and teachers. Overall, she’s loving school, and her parents are thrilled. However, the parents said something that is a juicy source of reflection for me recently. They said their daughter doesn’t know she is smart, and they don’t want her to know. I believe their daughter’s temperament is humble and empathetic, so if someone did tell her she was smart it wouldn’t be a detriment. I notice that there is a trend of parents not attributing characteristics to their children, but letting them recognize themselves through acknowledgement of concrete accomplishments. I get this, and think it is a beneficial practice for home and school. However, I do think that parents and teachers have become so “smart” about not ever voicing positive attributes to children that there is a forced quality to learning time with children. I think if teachers and parents are reflecting back to children the specific work they see them doing; it is also beneficial to tell a child (when it feels genuine) that you think they are smart, funny, kind, etc.
Overall, the conferences feel like a pivotal point in the year because there is an acknowledgement of where children are, what goals would be most beneficial for their happiness and growth, and an exchange of information to help children fortify and focus their learning path. In addition I have gained insight into how to collaborate with families for children’s academic and social/emotional success. This is snapshot of parent-teacher communication, but a panoramic one.