Parent/Teacher Conferences: Honest feedback sets stage for future student growth

Thanks to all the parents who took time to attend the 2,997 individual parent/teacher conferences this week at Colorado Academy.  It was a former Governor of my home state of Arizona, Jane Hull who said, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.” Truly, your participation is vital to Colorado Academy being a great school.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that conferences are easy. For many people, we judge and measure ourselves based on how others judge and measure our children. I would caution against it! Conferences are meant not to be a referendum on our parenting, but instead are designed to provide the kind of honest feedback that sets the stage for a student’s future growth.

Any school report—be it a parent conference, a teacher comment about student progress, or a grade in a report card—really only represents a point of data at a particular moment in time. I think it is always important to take the long view of child development. Be patient. Your child is his or her own person and each child is different. Try to put aside your ego and possible defensiveness. Embrace the bad and the good.  It is always important to remember that schools are somewhat surreal places. Kids have to take courses in different subjects and are unrealistically expected to excel in everything. Every adult I know figured out what they were good at and typically avoided doing things they didn’t like. Kids don’t have that choice because of the need to develop a broad and strong foundationnot to mention to have opportunities to find hidden talents and passions.

So, here are some things I hope you can take away from this week’s conferences:

1) Trust the teacher. These are talented, experienced professionals who are invested in a student-oriented process. They are going to observe and see things that you probably don’t always see at home. They benefit from learning more about the things they don’t see at school, but also be willing to accept and embrace a picture of your child that might look different than the person you see.

2) Welcome the good and the bad.  Schools are focused on helping young people grow and improve. We approach this from a critical, but non-judgmental, perspective. We wouldn’t be in business if students entered our classrooms as fully formed experts. There is a lot of work we do during the 14 years between Pre-Kindergarten and Senior year.  We help students become creative and critical thinkers, but also good and ethical people. This means we are going to draw attention to those “teachable moments” in life that propel growth. In my experience, most “teachable moments” stem from something that was hard to face. To promote resiliency, we actually want some of these hard-learning moments to happen when we are young, rather than as adults. In other words, failure can be a really good thing for young people to confront, particularly when their teachers and parents help them process those moments and provide them that unconditional support that is so critical to forming a healthy self-image.

3) Understand that improvement takes time. We all need to be patient. In a world that changes in just seconds, we must remember that learning and intellectual development is a slower process. There are no “life hacks” for mastering pre-Calculus or understanding punctuation or for being able to analyze Shakespeare. Every child is on some intellectual journey, and his or her rate of travel varies. There are many external and biological factors that affect this rate of growth, but my research suggests that much is affected by genetics and each individual’s unique brain development. The teachers will have strategies and suggestions that you can follow and will help your child address areas of challenge. Intentionally missing from those strategies is constantly pressuring a child.

4) Review what you’ve learned from the teachers with your child. Sit down and have a conversation. Some grades invite students to the conferences, but not all. Empower your child to take responsibility for her or his learning. Encourage children to set goals for what they might do to continue to grow and take advantage of the tremendous learning opportunities at CA. The conclusions should not be “work harder” or a setting a goal of “getting higher grades.” Rather, focus on the process of learning: being diligent about getting homework done; establishing a goal to speak out more in class; or endeavoring to meet with a teacher once a week during help time. I find that when kids do their homework, engage with their teachers, seek extra help, and participate in class, improvement happens naturally.

Our next set of conferences will take place in March. Prior to that, I invite you to attend one of our many upcoming SPEAK lectures, including Rosetta Lee on October 18, Jeff Selingo on November 5, Ron Lieber on January 15, and Paul Tough on February 7. These are all designed to help build a community of engaged parents who support one another in the daunting and humbling task of raising children. You can find out more and register for these free lectures on the CA website.

Thank you again for your support for CA and your positive engagement in your child’s life!