Dr. Morva McDonald
As spring nears, family/teacher conferences are taking place across the United States. Whether the school is public or independent, in rural Mississippi or urban Washington, teachers invite families to school to talk about their child's experience and progress in school. These meetings are akin to the annual doctor's check up—not an emergency, not a special visit to the doctor's office, but rather a routine opportunity to connect and check in. It is a time for teachers and families to talk about a student's progress and develop plans to support continued learning.
At Giddens, our goal is to help families understand each child's social and emotional growth, as well as their academic progress. It is also our goal to learn from families about new interests or challenges that may impact their child's experience at school. In this Giddens View, we highlight what you can expect from family/teacher conferences and offer ideas for how you might make the most of them.
Giddens teachers use principles of ambitious teaching to make decisions about instruction. One of those principles, understanding students socially, emotionally, and intellectually, guides our conversations with families during conferences. In these meetings, teachers will highlight the strengths and challenges your child demonstrates as they move through their school day. This might include highlights about their ability to negotiate conflicts or their resistance to persevering through a particularly difficult academic task. Teachers might share anecdotes of particular moments when they observed your child turn a "razzle frazzle" into a "razzle dazzle."
In family/teacher conferences, we aim to give you a window into your child's life at school. To support you in understanding where your child is academically, we will leverage work samples, such as an excerpt from a story they are writing, pages from their math journal, or a copy of the book they are reading with their book group. It's important to us that you walk away with a better understanding of your individual child's growth from the beginning of the school year until now. We also hope you will have a greater understanding of the concepts and skills they will be working on, with the guidance of their teacher, through the end of the year. This is a lot to cover in about 30 minutes! Please know that if additional time is needed, your teacher will schedule that with you for a different day. Schedules on conference days are tight and teachers aim to be respectful of everyone.
Although conference times are limited, we encourage you to come to the conference with your own questions or thoughts to share. For example, in terms of social/emotional development, you might ask:
- In what structures does my child feel socially confident?
- Which peers do they choose to spend the most time with?
- How do they spend recess time or free choice time?
- How can I support their social growth outside of school?
To learn more about your child's academic learning, you might ask:
- How does my child approach academic work times?
- How do my child's skills compare to grade level expectations?
- When my child is struggling, what is effective in supporting them?
- What is my child's greatest strength academically?
We are also really looking to gain an understanding of your experience of your child at home. What kinds of activities are they doing outside of school? What is the pace of their afternoons, evenings, and weekends? What do they say when they talk about school? What kinds of things are they looking forward to in the coming months? A deeper understanding of these aspects of your child's life can help their teacher do the important work of adapting instruction to meet their individual needs and interests.
As the conference comes to a close, your child's teacher will likely share their goals for your child as they move through this spring, summer, and even into the next school year. This might inspire questions about your child's best classroom placement for next year. I encourage you to focus on general questions such as: "What qualities in a teacher do you think work well for my child?" or "What aspects of the classroom environment help my child to be successful?" rather than specific inquiries about particular teachers. We are still early in our planning stages for the 2016-2017 school year and it is too soon to know what the make-up of each teaching team will be. We do value the importance of your input to the class placement process. Later this spring I will be sending an email seeking information from you as we consider these important decisions.
A few thoughts about class placements: every year, as we begin the class placement process, we step back and look at each individual student in the school in order to create the most diverse, balanced, and productive classroom cohorts. Some students in our elementary grades may stay with their teacher and "loop" for a second year, others may be ready for a new perspective or peer group. There are a multitude of factors that we consider in this process including teacher perspectives, the range of academic abilities represented, the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of any given class, the social and emotional relationships of students, and family input. To support equity and transparency, I am hoping that directly seeking this family input through email later this spring will allow everyone the opportunity to offer their perspective. Please remember, input from families is only one factor in our class placement process. It is also my hope that in knowing this opportunity is available, the spring family teacher conference will be a time to focus on the remainder of this year and the learning of each child. We are looking forward to conferences with you on March 25 or April 8, 2016.
Please join me for the Giddens View Live event on Thursday, March 24 or8:35am or 2:00pm as we consider additional strategies for a productive family/teacher conference.
Dr. Morva McDonald
Head of School