Sunday, January 25, 2015

Formal Conferences

The Value of Formal Conferences
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The question is often asked, "Why do we allot two days of school to parent-student-teacher conferences? Just think, students and teachers could have two more days of instructional time together twice a year. Instead, each family meets with two teachers (and occasionally one) for twenty minutes, often rearranging schedules to make this happen. Is this a valued use of time and why?

The value of formal conferences in your child's progress at school can be strikingly evident, extremely subtle or anywhere in between. Rarely is a conference meaningless, but often, the positive outcomes are intangible. 

There is no substitute for face-to-face time together in one room - parents, student and teachers. During this time, progress is celebrated and challenges are identified. Food for thought is offered and plans of action are initiated. Emotions are uncovered: A child's anxiety about academic capability, difficulty relating to a teacher or discomfort in a particular social situation emerge. A parent's doubt about his/her role in homework is addressed. Clarification of expectations is provided. A fuller knowing of the student invariably occurs, one that contributes positively sooner or later to the child's growth and place in the community.

A follow-up meeting can be arranged as needed. The twenty-minute conference calls for focus and directness; it is an ideal amount of time for checking in, uncovering and realizing common concerns. Rather than a chance or spontaneous meeting, this one is purposefully structured. Afterward, the door is open and welcome mat set out for further interaction among teacher, student and parents. 

Another reason we schedule formal conferences is because these meetings would not otherwise occur for a number of students, and while those students would not necessarily lose an edge, an opportunity to boost their academic, social and emotional growth would be missed. 

A meeting among parents, student and teacher may not occur because a student's scores and emotional and social well-being is rocking along fine. Why meet? Or, a child may insist on his/her independence and discourage their parents from meeting with teachers. Parents may be intimidated by the prospect of engaging teachers and worried that they would be judged as bothersome. Sometimes life gets in the way of scheduling a meeting with teachers. We are busy with family and jobs. 

One more reason for scheduling formal conferences is to provide students with the experience of representing themselves in the company of significant adults in their lives. Being ten or fifteen-years old in the company of your teachers, mentors and parents is not easy even if it is with adults who are committed to loving and supporting you. With experience, students learn to articulate their accomplishments and needs. 

In the days after formal conferences, as teachers and principal share and reflect upon the outcomes of the time with families, we realize that we are better equipped to help students individually and as a group. The two intense days provide a powerful catalyst for reflection and positive change, and they lead to specific and general actions that make the education at St. Mary's Academy is better for your child.