School experiments with new parent teacher conferences

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This year, the school has been experimenting with new approaches to parent-teacher conferences. In an effort to increase parents’ access to their children’s teachers and to increase attendance, the school is trying one approach this fall and another in the spring.

In years past, parent-teacher conferences have taken place in the cafeteria. Parents stood in lines to meet with the teachers of their choice. Each teacher had a table and a stack of papers from all their classes with information on every student they were teaching that year. Attendance at these conferences was satisfactory but not as high as the school would like.

The experience did provide flexibility for busy parents who could choose to meet with just one or two teachers or with as many as they liked; the downside, however, is that this format could be crowded and rushed.

This fall, parents received an email that the conferences would now be structured as a “Meet and Greet.” Each parent would go through a typical day by moving from classroom to classroom to attend ten-minute mini-classes over seven periods. Parents sat in the classroom and listened to the teacher’s presentation that usually included a description of the lessons, assignments, and goals for the year.

The Meet and Greet was held on a Thursday night and a Friday morning, giving parents the chance to choose the time that was best for them.

One parent, Sowgol Zakarian, liked the new set-up. She said, “The teachers talked about the class for the first couple of minutes of the session. There was enough time for them to speak to each of us individually. I don’t think that this will work for every class. I like that they were able to do both — talk about their class and then talk to us about our individual child.”

Some other parents seem to agree and were happy to wander around the halls, see the classrooms and also have time to ask the teachers questions.

However, parents with multiple children were not as content. For them, it was hard to follow more than one schedule. Some parents were actually upset about the new conferences after seeing the email introducing the new conference format and refused to go.

Most of the parents that did go did have a good time and enjoyed themselves. There were lots of student volunteers in the hallways helping lost parents find the classrooms and willing to answer any questions a parent had.

One of the reasons that parents were able to enjoy so much individual attention is that attendance was low.

In the spring, parents will be meeting with their child’s PRIDE teacher instead of each of their subject teachers. Each student will meet with their parent and have their PRIDE teacher there as a mediator and observer. In a new format, students will participate in Student Exhibitions through presenting an assignment that they did well on and a piece of work that they did not do too well on to their parents. PRIDE teachers will be there to help facilitate the discussion.

Among students, there is a range of opinions about the new format as well as many details about the process that are still unclear.

The faculty seem to be somewhat hesitant but are willing to give it a try. David Frankel, an English teacher, has said that he is willing to try this new approach and hopes that it is helpful for students and their families. He has also said, “I like my role as an advisor and I like that I am getting to know my [PRIDE] group.”

As Matthew Cohen, a mathematics teacher, said, “It gives students an opportunity to own their education,” which he agrees with and thinks is beneficial.  

The purpose of these conferences is to help parents understand the school’s curriculum and academic goals. The conferences give parents the chance to ask questions and to check up on their child’s academic growth.

Cohen has said that the fall one was more like an open house and that they talked more about the class, whereas the spring one will focus more on the individual student. This newest format will give parents a chance to see their children describe their own perspective on what they do every day when they come to school and give students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, including what they are excelling at and what they still need to improve on.

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