- Early Childhood
- Lower School
For as long as any of us can remember, parent-teacher conferences have been an expected and anticipated part of every academic year, no matter the school. As a child, you may recall waiting outside the classroom door while your parents met intently with your teacher - your fingers crossed it would be a good report! But how often do we pause to consider the rich benefit of this partnership between parents and faculty?
Conferences allow everyone involved in the child’s education to pause and reflect. And the beauty of this two-way conversation at Stanley Clark is that the reflection will take place about the whole child. While academic progress is essential, we also care deeply about the child’s social and character development, as well as growth in the arts and athletics.
As water and sunlight are essential to a plant’s growth, feedback is critical to a child’s development. Children look to the adults in their lives to help them learn the essentials of life and provide aids for them to navigate their world. For feedback to be effective, the parent and the teacher need to be on the same page, which is why conferences are so important. It’s not unusual for a child to behave one way in school and a different way at home. Or even for parents and teachers to both see similar behaviors but respond in different ways, therefore reinforcing the behavior in ways that don’t complement one another. Parent/teacher dialogue helps both parties learn about behaviors in both environments and provide consistency in the feedback they give the child.
In addition to the face-to-face conference, at Stanley Clark, parents of children in early childhood and lower school leave with a set of conference notes that the teacher has prepared, serving as a reminder in the days to follow of what the teacher believes is essential in the child’s development. The notes provide parents with overarching information about the areas where their child shines, along with the areas where there are opportunities for improvement. Unlike the narrative comments posted in a formal report card, conference notes allow the teacher to informally provide parents with “need to know” information in a setting that allows for additional details, observations, and a parent's perspective. This two-way, informal method of communication makes a parent-teacher conference essential.
By the time you are reading this, some of you might be heading into or out of your first conference of the year; regardless of the timing, I offer three pieces of advice to guide you on your child’s educational journey:
Stay curious - Curiosity is the basis of reflection, and the ability of teachers and parents to ask questions of one another to support the child is one of the reasons we choose to devote so much time to conferences twice a year. It’s a crucial element in the partnership between school and home. I like to think of conferences as strategizing meetings - how can we strategize about the ways we can best support the child? Teachers can ask about what works at home, and parents can ask for advice in setting their child up for success in whatever area they are working in. Teachers work with hundreds of children in their tenure, so whatever gifts or challenges children bring when they walk through the door, the teacher has most likely had experience with it. That’s why hiring the best teachers is one of my most important roles. I look for curiosity in a teacher just like I encourage curiosity in our students.
Recognize the value of failing small - This was one of the most challenging things for me to realize as an early teacher. I wanted all of my students to succeed, whether in their friendships or during math class. But by constantly interrupting the learning process to correct or guide them, I was actually doing them a disservice. What I’ve come to learn is that the art of teaching, or parenting for that matter, is knowing when to step in and scaffold. We use the term scaffold in schools because it describes the support we provide to help the child gradually rise to the next level. Kids need time and space to make mistakes, so we can step in at the appropriate time and help them reflect. Of course, if the child is doing something dangerous, the adult steps in immediately. However, one of the hardest things to do as an adult is to let a child make a mistake, realize it, and then self-correct. The adult can often do it better and faster than the child, but allowing the child to struggle a bit and learn from their mistakes is often the best approach.
Develop your child’s independence - One of my favorite times of the day is arrival in the early childhood carline. Each day, I welcome the children back to school with a smile, knowing they are growing in their confidence and autonomy. Watch three-year-olds skip into the building with big smiles, and you, too, will feel that you can accomplish anything. This independence doesn’t stop when they enter the building; it’s just begun. Walk into any classroom in our preschool program, and you will see just how capable our youngest learners are. They unpack themselves for the day and check into the classroom, make choices about what areas of the room to explore, and learn how to express their emotions while solving problems with classmates. These skills are no different as children get older; building independence is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. And it doesn’t stop in the early childhood classroom. As our fourth graders learn how to navigate the world of letter grades for the first time, part of that process is the child learning how to self-advocate and ask questions when they don’t understand why they earned the score they did. Praising the child’s effort is more important than focusing on the grade. We never praise a child’s smartness. We remind them that success in anything comes from effort and that effort and attitude are some of the few elements of control one can have in any situation. This philosophy continues through the middle school years, allowing children to handle any situation they encounter with confidence.
The glue which holds together curiosity, learning from mistakes, and developing independence is reflection. While it’s natural for a child to want to move on to the next thing, a key role for the adults in their lives is to encourage the child to take the time to reflect. Through reflection, they learn about themselves and how the world works. Conferences and report cards help facilitate that process.
About the Author
Dr. Kelly Goodspeed
Director of Early Childhood and Lower School
Director of Curriculum