-by Krista Taylor
Montessori philosophy uses the “Golden Triangle” to represent the strength and importance of the relationship between teachers, students, and parents, but Gamble, like many other urban schools, struggles with lower levels of parent involvement than we’d like.
It is important to remember that many parents experience anxiety about involvement in their child’s school. This may be because of negative school experiences they had themselves, worries that either their child or their parenting skills will be critiqued, or concerns about their ability to understand the academic instruction that is being provided.
I didn’t fully understand the depth of this tension until I attended my first parent-teacher conference in the role of a parent. Despite the many times I had sat on the teacher side of the table, and regardless that my child was doing well, and I understood what the conversation was going to be about, I was nervous.
What exactly would the teacher say about my child? If my child is experiencing challenges, how will that reflect on me? How can I both make a good impression and serve as an advocate for my child?
As a teacher, there are strategies to alleviate some of this discomfort, which then in turn, allows the parent or guardian to engage fully with school staff to support the academic and developmental growth of the child.
Proactive Conference Strategies
- Begin each interaction with something positive about the child
- Assume that the parent or guardian is doing the best that they can; however do not assume that they already know how to address concerns.
- Do not label a child; rather describe the behavior you have observed
- Open the door to further communication
- Remember that you are teaching other people’s children; that every student you serve is someone’s child, and they have chosen to share this gift with you.
All schools hold parent-teacher conference nights. In Montessori programs, these look different. Our conferences are Student-Led Conferences, so called because the student leads the meeting. It is the student whose performance is being discussed; therefore the student is in charge of the conversation.
At Gamble, we require all students to hold these conferences at least once, and often twice, a year. This is part of the school contract that our students and parents sign upon enrollment. To manage this, we hold two conference nights each quarter, rather than the required one. Since students lead the conference, multiple conferences happen simultaneously, with teachers checking in at each table to provide information and clarification.
Templates guide students in running the conference. The templates vary according to program, teacher, and grade level, but generally include the following:
- how to formally introduce your parents and teachers
- preparing materials for presentation
- identifying strengths
- noting concerns
- setting explicit goals for moving forward.
This process allows the child to self-report on how things are going at school, and to take responsibility both for what is going well, and for what is not. Additionally, when information is shared together, and everyone hears the same message at the same time, it creates a sense of collaboration between the student, the parent, and the teacher – strengthening that “Golden Triangle.”
It is yet another component of “what we do here,” and another way to develop a school culture of belonging. This is illustrated by the conference we had with Deon and his mother last spring.
Deon had been highly disruptive in the classroom – he had more than 40 logged disciplinary offenses for the year. This was a difficult conference to hold; it was challenging to find anything positive to say. It could easily have turned into a conflict, but because of the way we conduct conferences, the outcome was one of unified support. Deon’s mother ended our meeting with a request for a group hug, and with these powerful words, “We are all on the same team – Team Deon.”
Parents can be a teacher’s greatest allies. Every interaction a teacher has with students’ parents or guardians can serve as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship, even if the conversation is a difficult one. Conference nights can be powerful for all parties involved; never miss an opportunity to connect with a child’s family, to be a member of that child’s “team.”