Monday, November 2, 2009

Parent-Teacher Conferences, and Asking the Students

Parent-Teacher conferences are coming in full swing with the start of November. P-T conferences were frequently disappointing in our districts, as parents had busy schedules and were keeping track of grades online, thus decimating participation. Even requiring parents to come in to P-T conferences in order to get the student's report cards didn't work; parents came in, got the paper, and immediately left. I had a similar experience with a face-to-face parental advisory group when I was a principal.

About 2003, I stopped putting any hope in P-T conferences or Parental Advisory Groups, and instead prioritized online communication. And it worked, tremendously. I had near 80% participation rate in my parental advisory group with an online communication format. I found online communication better for two reasons. I could initiate the conversation at any time, and parents were more likely to respond.

The takeaway was this. Parents care. They want what is best for their children, and they want a voice in that education. There was something about the convenience of interacting online that made it possible.

What I realize now is that I didn't offer them a forum to talk to each other online. All communication was back and forth via email with me. A discussion group or a blog would have produced more authentic sharing.

Which brings me to what Russ Goerend is doing. In addition to his other online professional learning activity, he uses blogging as a centerpiece of his teaching. His blog serves as ongoing writing instruction for students as well as a springboard for student discussion. Moreover, the blog offers parents a chance to not only find information and access notes, but also to participate in the discussion about how to improve the classroom.


Come to think of it, there was one compliment (I take it as a compliment... those who disagree with my pedagogical outlook will consider it a weakness of mine) that I received at the P-T conferences I had that was very rare for other teachers. Parents really liked the fact that I asked students for their thoughts on what we were learning in class and how we learned it.

We went beyond just offering multiple project choices for individuals. We actually had discussion about the format to instruction and the way we learned best, and sections of my courses were taught completely different from other sections based on what the students argued they learned best with. These usually spilled over into individual discussions with students, both inside and outside of class. For me, frankly, I felt like I was doing what I should have been doing; it was their education, after all.

Russ of course does it better than I do. I love his open threads for students and parents alike to contribute to. Teachers and administrators need to do more of this. It creates more empowering, ongoing dialogue and creates a culture of continuous improvement. More on the responses from students about the technology teachers should use tomorrow.

To do this requires a teacher to be open to criticism of their teaching, that they indeed do not have all the answers and are looking for input. I won't be naive; this is a major hurdle to most teachers, whether we want to admit it or not. But it is one we need to overcome.

Related Post:
Why aren't we asking students?

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