Meet the Parent Sessions or Parent Teacher Conferences?

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A Summary of the Fifth Discipline by Monica Suan

The end of term is near and its time of the year again when we get to meet and chat with our students’ parents and guardians. As part of my reading project, I have summarized my reading and also share my thoughts on ‘Meet Parent Sessions’. Hope this article will inspire some thoughts about how you can approach MPS.

*************************************************** MPS (Source http://thejosevilson.com/pop-collar-parent-teacher-conferences-new-york-times/#sthash.CS7WdKgr.dpbs)   Rather than say ‘Meet the Parent’ Sessions, some writers prefer the term ‘Parent-Teacher Conferences to describe such sessions. In this entry, I will summarize a chapter in Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline that discusses the art of communication with parents in such Parent Teacher Conferences.

Why ‘Conference’? The word ‘Conference’ is a noun, yet increasingly it has been used as a verb. Educators speak about conferencing with students and parents rather than ‘conferring’ with them. Both words stem from the latin ‘Conferr’ meaning ‘to bring together’, ‘to consult together’. When used as a noun or verb, conferencing seems to convey a ‘thing’; thus, to ‘Conference’ with someone means to tell or transmit knowledge, in a top down fashion. When you meet the parents of the students in your class did you ‘Conference’ or ‘Conferr’?

The Weakest Link In school, communication occurs between the teacher and the student. At home, communication occurs between the student and parent. If the classroom is a system involving the teacher, student and parent, then obviously the link between teacher and parent is the weakest link in this system. Hence, the parent teacher conference is created to improve this link.

Do you Conferr or Conference? Is there effective ‘Conferr-ing’ during your Parent-Teacher Conferences? Just how effective are these 10 – 15 minutes conversations with the parents of students each year (sometimes more than once a year) in creating such links?

Does this happen in your parent teacher conferences? Teacher A holds the result slips of her students and painstakingly wrote a folder of notes containing her students’ weaknesses.  For the next ten to fifteen minutes from the moment the parent approached the table and sat down, the following possible scenarios enfold…….

  • The parents listen as the teacher runs down their child’s results (which frankly, I believe the parents can read on their own) or run down her notes of all the naughty things their child has committed since January….
  • Sometimes the teacher listens while the parents vent frustrations over their child’s obsession with his computer or coming home late from school or their displeasure with the school programmes…..

At the end of the 15 minutes, what has been communicated? Was the time effectively used so that the child in discussion will be able to benefit it? Is there ways to make these conversations more relevant and beneficial and provide a learning experience for both the teacher and the parents and even the student?

Reframing by inquiring and advocating Senge et al (2000) suggest teachers reframe a parent teacher conference by asking questions that is able to build a common understanding of current reality of the student.

How about asking the following questions to generate deeper conversations with parents during the coming Parent-Teacher Conference?

  1. What strength do you see in your child?
  2. What does your child say about school?
  3. What kinds of activities, at school or elsewhere, seem to frustrate your child most?
  4. What kinds of activities excite your child?
  5. What does he do at home most of the time at home?
  6. Tell me about your child’s peers and social relations?
  7. Who does he or she socialize with outside of school?
  8. What kind of responsibilities does your child have at home?
  9. What goals do you have for your child?
  10. What is your child’s favourite subject or activity?
  11. What would you like to know about your child?

Conversational Dos and Don’ts in Parent-Teacher Conference Dos

  • Skillful discussion

Balancing advocacy and inquiry, genuinely curious, makes reasoning explicit, ask others about assumptions without being critical or accusing.

  • Dialogue

Suspending all assumptions, creating a container in which collective thinking can emerge.

  • Interviewing

Exploring other’s point of view and the reasons behind them

  • Clarifying

What is the question we are trying to answer?

Don’ts

  • Dictating

“Here’s what I say, and never mind why”

  • Politicking

Give the impression of balancing advocacy and inquiry while being close-minded.

  • Withdrawing

Mentally checking out the room and not paying attention

  • Interrogating

Why can’t you see that your point of view is wrong?

(Source – Senge, P et al (2000), Schools that Learn – A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents and Everyone Who Cares About Education, Replika, London)  

My Experience (How I ask questions in MPS) At a MPS, as the parents approach my table, I will always make a point to greet the parents with a smile and arrange that they face me while the student sits at the side between both of us.  The triangular arrangement is to emphasize the classroom system of parent student teacher working together and have a three-way conversation.

Firstly, I will make the parent feel welcome by thanking them for taking time off their busy schedule to attend the session. I state the objective of the session which is to communicate with the parents and see how we can work together to support the student in his learning. Then, I will ask the parents if they have queries about their child. Usually, the conversation will flow based on their concerns or questions. Here’s where I will ask questions about the student and learn more about how the students learn at home.  (eg. Questions from the list above) After that, I will focus on the student’s performance in the examinations and start by focusing on what has improved or commendable followed by areas of concerns.

Together with the parents, we will explore ways to help the student. The session will usually end with a summary of new strategies which we will try out to bring about better learning for the student.

Thank you for reading. I hope this article is useful to you. Do give me some feedback as to how to improve conversations in MPS.

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