Yesterday we had Parent-Teacher (PT) conferences at school and I thought I’d share a few things that made for smooth sailing and an enjoyable day for me. We only have ten minutes per interview, so I’ll share how I managed to communicate a whole lot in that short time.
New teachers will probably find this a lot more helpful than the “old hands,” as will those using the teacher support packs. I remember getting very nervous during my first PT conferences, so I’m hoping some tips here will be helpful.
Phase 1: What we’re doing…
I give a short talk about the unit we’re currently working on, but instead of going into the specifics that have little context for parents, I give the summary in terms of real life applications. For example, when talking about PTSD I explain that “…we’re looking at the effects of stress on our memory and the brain. But more than that we’re also learning about how our thinking can influence the effects of stress, in that it can make it worse or it can make it better, so that hopefully (student’s name) will learn that it’s not just about what happens in our life that could cause stress, it’s always how we deal with it, which I think is a pretty good thing for a teenager to learn.”
Phase 2: How we’re doing it…
I then bust out the student workbook for that unit and explain the general lesson structure, but again without going into specifics. I simply say that “…each lesson has three questions that I expect (name) to be able to answer.” I use the three levels of learning diagram (see below) to help me explain these questions.
Some parents love the fact that they can use the questions in the workbook to quiz their own child each night (their kids are less impressed with this).
I also show how each lesson has a guiding question that I expect students to be able to answer and if it’s not completed, it should be done for homework. So the parent knows that if they want to check their child’s homework all they have to do is say “show me your answer to today’s psych’ question.”
I then show how all the assessment materials that are needed are also in the workbook and how success in the tests is based on hard work: if they do the preparation and practices they will be well-prepared to succeed.
Here’s an extract from the PTSD workbook…
Phase 3: Where the student’s at…
Now the context for the course, lessons, and how we’re working in class is set, I can provide specific and meaningful feedback to the parent about what level their kid is generally working at.
I keep track in a printed spreadsheet about which students show me their workbooks in each lesson and I can use this to feedback to the parents. I also use the image below to help give the parent some context of where their child is at.
- For example, some of our students have English as a second language and it naturally takes them longer to comprehend new terminology. This limits the time in lessons they have to show their understanding so they’re working in the “green” and trying to get into understanding and applying.
- Other students might be showing good understanding but when they’re left up to their own to extend themselves they don’t show the initiative, or they’re just finishing the check-in at the end of the lesson so the extension is something they should be doing in their own time to challenge themselves.
- Still other students fly through the day’s work and they’re working on the extension by the end of the lesson, but would benefit from finishing these in their own time and getting feedback later on.
And of course there’s everything in between. But having the image below showing on my laptop screen makes it really easy for me to communicate exactly where a student is at, and with the guiding questions in the workbook the parents know how they can check and support their own child’s progress.
I could get all this done in ten minutes, with still some time for anecdotal and personal comments. I’m confident that parents left with a good idea of exactly where there child is working at and more importantly concrete and specific things they can do to help them advance, which is not something I’d say with definitive confidence in years past.
This is the image that I used yesterday during our PT conferences to communicate progress. It needed no explanation from me and seemed to inherently make sense for parents, which made the communication of progress so much easier – imagine if this language (and the specific definitions) was uniform across the school and could be used in written reports, too!
NOTE: At ThemEd we’re not claiming our ideas are revolutionary – they’re evolutionary. The three levels of learning, for instance, are developments of Bloom’s and the SOLO frameworks, but with revised definitions of each level that make them more objectively measurable in student work.
Final Thoughts: We never know our effect…
One reason I like PT conferences is you sometimes get insights you never expected. Yesterday, for example, a parent told me how their kid came home and showed them the same video we watched in class to induce fear (this one: “Lights Out”) and he explained about the amygdala and how it activates before our conscious awareness and how he found this fascinating. I would have had no idea that this particular student was so interested in what we were learning as he’s generally rather reserved. To hear this was really quite cool and made me realize that as much as we try to know the impact we’re having, we’ll never always know the full impact.
And another parent wanted to tell me about her niece, whom I taught a few years ago who wanted to say hi to me and tell me they’re now majoring in psychology. I remember the girl and she was a lot of fun to have in class, but I would’ve never thought she’d go on to major in psychology. I’m not taking credit for this, of course, but it’s super cool to hear nonetheless.
There’s only so much we can do…
The reason I go into a bit of detail about how the lessons are structured and the three levels of learning is that there’s only so much we as teachers can do in class. I told many parents that there’s one of me and a lot of students, so it’s up to them to be the ones approaching me when they need help and/or feedback as this is simply the most efficient way for things to happen. There’s only so much monitoring of progress that we can do, so what I like about the three levels of learning and their practical application in things like the student workbook is that we can make it really easy for parents to: a) know what level their kid generally works at, and b) know what they can do to help them progress.
I sincerely believe in the massive potential for success that these basic frameworks can provide, not only for individual teachers but also across whole schools.
Hope you got a couple of ideas from this post…
Next Post: Taking the Stress out of Teacher Evaluation Observations…
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.