I have some thoughts about parent-teacher conferences

As a teacher I enjoy the opportunity to sit with the parents of my individual students and to talk about their accomplishments their challenges and our relationship. There’s a similar structure to each of my conferences and although I teach about 130 students on average I feel like I know each of them well enough to speak to parents and say some things about each child individually.

First of all, I thank parents for coming.

Next, I ask: what have you heard about PE so far?

Whatever the response, the question puts the parents and their child in the spotlight. My task is to listen carefully.

Based on their responses I can begin to share my observations about their child or children with them. Most often I have plenty of good news to share with a few anecdotes of recent wins.

When I have difficulties to share or describe I spend a considerable amount of time providing context. I tell parents about the structure of our class: what the expectations are, where their child shows signs of struggle and I always emphasize the expectation of change over time. It’s vitally important to me that parents understand that each child is working on something; each child faces or will face a challenge of one kind or another. As will their teacher. Process, process, that’s what we’re about.

While it seems that conferences are built up as a sort of reporting structure where teachers prepare a sort of ‘show and tell’ about students and their progress to date, it’s also an opportunity for teachers to learn about families. In my case, parents are often eager to share some information about themselves and their child’s sport enthusiasms and disappointments; previous injuries or wonderings about potential areas of brilliance. In fact, parents often want to know if I perhaps have a hot tip as to which activity might offer their child the greatest joy or opportunity to shine, or both.

In these listening moments, I find all kinds of inspiration. These are the windows which allow me to envision a student more fully and accurately with plenty of light and the proper shading.  This is where the conversation becomes animated and we’re no longer focused on the nuts and bolts of Physical Education but the blossoming of a wonderful young person. I enjoy exploring possibilities with parents by asking about previous sports experiences and learning more about how students see themselves in various physical contexts.

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“So what does your child enjoy doing?”

10 minutes. That’s how long I have to talk with parents about their child in my PE classes. For new parents I often focus on my observations of the child seems to have landed in their new school and how this seems to be playing out in PE. For veteran parents we can talk about new demands in the program and how their child is adjusting. What I love is the back and forth, the element of surprise for either of us at learning something new, the chance to put a concerned parent’s mind at ease about a difficulty.

This round I hosted about 40 conferences over two days. In the spring there will be more students in the mix as student-led versions become the norm. In these bursts of dialogue, I feed my calling to listen and respond with care. Honesty is at the forefront of my mind along with compassion and good will. I want us all – students, parents, teachers – to be successful because of each other.  Conferences are a chance for me to truly “use my words” and lay the foundation for student successes that stretch well beyond the gym and gallop all the way home.

 

image CC0 via Pixabay.

Parent-Teacher Conferences – Cause for Celebration

I really enjoy parent-teacher conferences.  I see it as a wonderful opportunity to share perspectives on some very important individuals: my students; your child or children.

I sit down with parents for 5 to 10 minutes and it never ceases to amaze me what I can learn, what I can offer and how much connection parents and I can actually build-up. My field is Physical Education and while several parents of the children I teach sign up to see me and I also invite some, I only see a fraction of them during conferences.  Yet for that fraction I have bundles of information to share and my curiosity about each child we consider typcially rises as we talk.

Last year my colleague and I began sharing short video clips of kids in class with parents during conferences.  We use an app called “Coach’s Eye” and it allows us to capture footage of kids in action and also use it for instant feedback with students in class.  At conferences, the opportunity to show Marika in action or Luke taking it easy opens the doors for genuine conversation that often gets to the heart of the matter much more quickly than words or “the data” might allow.   A father and I talked about his son, who was clearly marching to the beat of his own drum on the video, and we both observed that while he seems both distracted and distracting in the example, his movements also convey a great deal of joy.  His son is happy and not following along. It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong with this picture.  I prefer to see and point out what’s right. It makes for a very different and often much more constructive conversation than if we did it the other way around.

Some parents have genuine concerns about their child’s gross motor performance and seem to arrive prepared for the worst. That’s when a short video clip can make all the difference in the world.  “Look at this!” I say, pulling up a recent success on the screen.  Then I listen. I hear about the difficulties in the past; previous negative experiences and prevalent fears. I learn about family histories and self-confessed physical inadequacies.  I hear reservations: “Well, we know he’ll never be a professional… (fill in the blank)”  And that’s when I cannot wait to say – “Well, we actually don’t know. She may become a pilates whiz or a deep sea diver!  We just don’t know… isn’t that great?”  This often produces a smile at the very least and a sigh of relief.  Progress is the goal and your child is well on her way – that’s my message and it matters to all concerned.

Other parents are eager to find out about their child’s specific strengths. Is s/he good at…?  What I have found over the years is that while I can comment on certain tendencies and and preferences, my main message to parents in response is: follow your child’s lead.  What interests does he show? What is it that she likes to do and with whom?  And I remind them that many children have hidden abilities and skills which often don’t show up at school: there are remarkable skiiers, disciplined martial artists, daring skaters or brave backpackers. There’s so much more to our students and our children than meets the eye and when looking at physical education performance, there is even more that we teachers and their peers will never witness. That seems important to recognize, especially when the dominant movement culture (soccer, basketball, more soccer..(in Europe)) tends to obscure that reality.

Looking back at the conversations I had with parents during this cycle, I realize that I spoke a lot about happiness, joy and progress.  Many of my students have challenges of one sort or another, yet they all seem to want to be in the gym.  They want a piece of the action and they get it.  Being in a position to communicate to parents: Yes, this “thing” [ – name the challenge] is going on and your child is happy.  That is cause for celebration. Again and again and again.