Conferences and Conversation

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As a prosecuting attorney presents evidence to live up to the burden of proof, my son’s teacher presented baggies containing his wrongdoings, one after another, in our first conference.  The pencil, split in half lengthwise, demonstrated his lack of respect for the environment.  (I thought about his burning desire to learn the internal workings of tools.)  The tongs, carelessly broken while using them as a lever to lift increasingly heavy cylinders.  (I thought about his testing of mechanical advantage as a 4 year-old.)  Lastly, the end of a stick, once wielded as a sword on the playground, riling up his playmates to a Lord of the Flies frenzy.  (I thought about his leadership qualities and boundless energy that could shift easily to a new focus if encouraged.)
     Before I could ask questions or suggest my thoughts of ways to help, the teacher pushed the baggies aside and turned to the four pages of rubric descriptors and my son’s scores.  In an effort to “cover” all of the descriptors, we failed to have real conversation about any of them.

How different the conversation might have been if only…

  • I  had known about issues as they happened.
  • I had heard a balance of feedback about my child.  What was he doing well?  What positives might not be represented in a rubric score but could be seen in his interactions with his peers?
  • I had a chance to review those scores in advance or had been given some guidance on how best to support the specific skills in which he excelled or struggled.
  • I had been asked to share my hopes and worries about my child.
  • I was encouraged to ask questions and to make meaning during our conversation.
  • I heard from the teacher she wanted and needed my partnership to help my son succeed.

That conference made me think about the parents coming to see me for conferences and the power of dialogue before, during and after those meetings.  While I often began conferences with questions (What does your daughter tell you about Freshman Composition? or What have you heard from your son about our study of focus in Creative Writing?), I typically transitioned into my monologue from there. No more, I vowed.

Instead of sharing the same data with parents they had seen online, I began asking more questions and helping them find ways to focus their support of their child.  I shared anecdotes, suggested resources, and elicited feedback on what they saw as their child’s greatest assets and struggles.  The conference became more of a conversation, and both sides of the table learned something new during our time.

How do you promote dialogue with parents during conferences?  How has online grade access shaped that dialogue?