Thursday, 17 November 2016

Parent Teacher Conferences Guidelines for Parents

Dear Parents,

As our teachers prepare for Parent-Teacher Interviews this week, I share some of my thoughts with you about how parents can get the most out of the interviews. Should you be interested in the guidelines I discussed with the teachers, you can CLICK HERE to read them.

Listed below are my thoughts for how you can contribute to a successful interview with your child's teacher:

Before the Teacher Conference
1. Talk to your child. Ask your child what his/her strongest and weakest subjects are, and which subjects he/she likes most and least. Ask your child if he/she would like you to speak about anything particular with the teacher. You want to find out both the positive and negative. Make sure that your child understands that you and the teacher are meeting to help him, so that he doesn't worry about the conference.
2. Look at recent projects and assessments. This will help you be prepared for what the teacher is going to discuss with you.
3. Prepare a list of notes. Make a list of topics that you want to discuss with the teacher and that you think the teacher should know, such as your concerns about the school, the child's home life, any major changes in your family, habits, hobbies, or anything that is worrying your child. Be sure to ask for input from your spouse or other adults that are caring for your child as well.
4. Prepare a list of questions. Preparing a list of questions will help you have a productive conversation with your child's teacher. Prioritize the questions because you won't have time to ask all of these in one 7 minute conference.
The following questions are examples that will help you learn more about your child's progress in school:
  1. What is my child expected to learn this year?
  2. How will this be evaluated?
  3. What are my child's strongest and weakest subjects?
  4. What are some examples of these strengths and weaknesses?
  5. Does my child hand homework in on time?
  6. What types of tests and evaluations will my child have to take this year?
  7. How are my child's test-taking skills?
  8. Is my child participating in class discussions and activities?
  9. How are my child's social skills?
  10. Does my child seem happy at school?
  11. Have you noticed any unusual behaviors?
  12. Has my child missed any classes other than his/her excused absences?
  13. Do you think my child is reaching his/her potential?
  14. What can I do at home to help support his/her academic progress?
During the Teacher Conference
1. Arrive early. With only a few precious minutes to spend, you don't want to be late. It will shorten your time with your child's teacher and affect her day's entire schedule. Remember: We only have 7 minutes per interview.

2. Enter with the right attitude and an open mind. The goal of both the teacher and the parent should be the success of the student, but sometimes parents have a hard time discussing tough issues. Rather than put the teacher on the defensive, arrive with a compliment to start the conference off on the right foot. ("My son is really enjoying the unit on multiplication" or "he had a great time at the Shabbat party.") Then address any concerns in a respectful way.

3. Teachers Want Your Input
Teachers are just as interested in your input as you are in theirs. There are many things about your child the teacher doesn't know. Teachers want to be apprised of any changes your child is facing in his personal or family life, and how he behaves at home in comparison to how he acts at school.   
4. Tell the teacher what your child loves to do at home. Talk about non-academic skills your child has, unusual hobbies, or passions that lie outside the classroom. When the teacher knows these things, he/she can work to connect them to what they  teach, making school more interesting for students and helping them feel like they are essential people in the classroom.

5. Be yourself. Relax and be yourself. Remember that you and the teacher both the want the same thing: the very best for your child.

6. Stay calm: Stay calm during the conference. Respectful communication will be the most effective way to work together with your child's teacher. Getting angry or upset during the conference will make it very difficult to have a positive conversation.

7. Respectfully discuss differences of opinion. If you disagree with the teacher, respectfully explain why you disagree. If you don't let the teacher know about your differences of opinion, the teacher may think that you agree and will move on to the next topic. Discussing your differences with the teacher may help both of you find a more effective way to help your child

8. Create an action plan: Ask your child's teacher for specific suggestions of ways that you can help your child at home with homework, reading, organization, routines, behavioral issues, etc. This list of suggestions will become the action plan. Establish a way to keep track of the child's progress, as well as the best way to stay in touch with your child's teacher - through phone calls, emails, notes, or meetings. Review the action plan with the teacher as you end the conference to make sure that you both have the same expectations.

9. Confirm the regularity of communication. Don't let this be the only time you talk to your child's teacher. Discuss how often you need to be in touch about your child's progress.

10. Thank the teacher for meeting with you. Thank the teacher for her time and support of your child, as well as for anything specific that she has done to help your child.
After the Teacher Conference
1. Talk with your child. Talk about the conference with your child. Emphasize the positive points, and be direct about problems that were discussed. If you and the teacher created an action plan, explain it to your child. Make sure that your child understands that you and the teacher created this plan to help him/her.
2. Start working on the action plan. Set the action plan in motion. If the teacher brings something to your attention that needs to be addressed with your child, take steps to put the plan in motion, whether it's helping with organizational skills, getting extra help, or addressing a social issue. To ensure that it is working, check your child's behavior and schoolwork on a regular basis. Ask your child how he feels about school and his schoolwork.
3. Keep in touch with the teacher. Stay in touch with your child's teachers. This will help you strengthen the parent-teacher partnership, and will be an important part of the child's success in school. When a child sees that parents and teachers are working together, the child will understand that his/her education is a top priority at school and at home.

We only have parent teacher interviews twice a year. I hope you will all maximize the experience so we can partner to improve the education of your child. Should you have any questions or concerns after the interviews please feel free to reach out to any member of our administration.


Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Rothman

Parent Teacher Conference Guidelines for Teachers

It is the time of year for Parent-Teacher Conferences. As I began preparing some important best practices, I realized there were too many ideas for one list. For fear of overwhelming everyone, I chose to make two lists that I culled from other sources:
I. Vital guidelines that every teacher has to keep in mind
II. Best practices that we should all aspire to

I. Listed below are the vital guidelines:
  1. It is important that you arrive on time and begin each appointment promptly.
  2. A bell will ring every 7 minutes. This is a signal for both you and parents that the meeting is over. Even if the interview has not yet finished, you must explain that the day runs by appointments, and you must meet with your next appointment on time. Explain that it is important to adhere to the timing of appointments and their appointment is up! You may find it helpful to stand up at the end of the meeting - subtle body language can make the difference.  Regardless, no one set of parents can upset the sequence of appointments for the day. If parents need more time, please arrange an alternate time to talk with them.
  3. Should a parent be late and an unscheduled parent be waiting in hopes of meeting with you,  - do NOT meet with the "unscheduled" parent, as the "late" parent will likely probably show up and they do have the right to that time slot. Experience has shown that parents may be a minute or two late and then get frustrated that you've already started another conference. The "unscheduled parents" can meet you during a hole in your schedule.
  4. Always begin with the positive and make certain there is a balance between the positive and the “next steps”. Think of two or three positive descriptors for each student (e.g., "Michelle is so eager to help" or "David seems well liked by his classmates").
  5. Remember to: prepare the following items:
    1. Know in advance what you want to say. Prepare thoughts and materials. Create an agenda or list of key issues you want to discuss about each student’s progress and growth. CLICK HERE for some planning templates.
    2. Always have evidence to support what you have to say. Use examples. Walk parents through the assignments and assessments that are particularly demonstrative of the student’s progress and abilities.
    3. Limit the number of concerns to no more than three.
    4. Describe what you have done to remedy the situation
    5. Always work towards a collaborative solution.
  6. For those students who received a “Dveloping” or “Emerging” in the Gan, make sure you are prepared to explain this to the parents. Similarly, be sure to explain to parents why their child received a Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory for Middot skills. BE SPECIFIC: Excessive talking, inability to focus, too much clowning around, disrespectful, etc. Be sure to explain that their child's’ unsatisfactory behavior negatively affects the classroom environment demeanor   and takes time away from your teaching your class teaching time. (No one child has the right to limit the learning of other students.)
  7. It is important that you not project your opinion about a child’s diagnosis or dosage for medication. You should describe observable behaviours, but not medical information that is the purview of a doctor.
  8. Some traps to avoid: discussing family problems, discussing other teachers' classroom treatment of the student, comparing the student to their siblings, arguing with the parent, attempting to psychoanalyze the student, blaming the parent for the student's misbehavior.
  9. It is also very important to pay attention to the bulletin boards inside and outside your classroom. Please ensure that there is a write- up, explaining what went into the work being displayed. A description of your lesson goals and your success criteria can be very helpful. If you have photographs of the process in action, they too can be displayed.
  10. Be sure to bring your laptop so you can access your grades and comments. We will be printing the children’s report cards for teachers in Gan through Grade 5.
  11. Schedule a way to follow- up on your conference in the next few weeks and months. If you tell parents you will follow- up with them, be sure to do that in accordance with the timeline that you agreed upon.
  12. Be sure to call back those who requested a call back!

II. Listed below are the best practices:
  1. Create a welcoming environment. Make your classroom comfortable for families by displaying student work, arranging seating in circles (with adult chairs, if possible), and making a private space for the conferences. Don't hide behind your desk. It can be a barrier to developing a working relationship. If possible, sit beside the parent at a table. Also avoid seating parents in small children's chairs.
  2. Arrange the room setting to minimize potential distractions or interruptions during the conference.
  3. Even the parents of bright, strong students want details. They do not want to hear only “he is an ideal student.” Add your goals, what he can still work on, or his special abilities.
  4. It is a good idea to have work available for parents to peruse. I would also have an example of a really good piece of work (you should take out the student’s name) for parents to see. Sometimes an example of a “three” is also a good idea. It is also a good idea to have examples of work from the beginning of the year so that you can show growth.
  5. Ask questions and listen actively. Solicit family input into student strengths and needs, learning styles, and non-school learning opportunities. Ask parents about their hopes and dreams for their child.
  6. Actively listen to the parent. Respond emphatically to feelings expressed by the parent (e.g., "You are disappointed Sarah isn't getting more individual attention in class"). This communicates that you really are trying to understand the parents' perspective; it does not imply you necessarily agree with their view. Such active listening is an especially effective way to handle the angry parent.
  7. Share ideas for supporting learning. Provide suggestions for activities and strategies families can use at home to help their child learn and grow.
  8. Seek solutions collaboratively. Avoid judgements about what “they” should do and instead emphasize how “we” can work together to resolve any problems. Make an action plan. Spend the last few minutes discussing how you and the family will support the student. Be specific about the kinds of things you will do, for how long you will do them, and how you will check in with one another about progress.
  9. Don't dwell on any student's attributes that are unlikely to change or over which the parents have little control.
  10. Practice the very best of manners, treating each parent with full respect and dignity.
  11. Address all parents by their last names preceded by the appropriate Mr., Mrs., or Ms. until you are invited by them to use their first name.
  12. When you are delivering news about an academic or behavioral problem, author Susan Swap and others suggest these strategies:
  • Focus your comments and efforts only on things that can be changed.
  • Limit the number of suggestions for improvements so that parents are not overwhelmed.
  • Speak plainly and avoid jargon and euphemistic language.
  • Be tactful, but not so tactful that you don't adequately communicate the problem.
  • Ask for and listen to parents' reactions.
  • Be specific when discussing difficulties the student is experiencing. It is generally better to be candid, yet non-blaming. It is unwise to mislead the parent into thinking all is well if there is a problem with their child. Stick to the facts, giving concrete examples, rather than broad generalities.
  • It is best to avoid getting emotional in discussing problems you may be having with the student. Remember, your goal is to enlist the parent's cooperation in resolving any difficulties the student may be experiencing in your class.

  1. Inquire about home routines (responsibilities, homework habits, play, etc.). Seek information that might help you gain a better understanding of the student's talents, interests, and challenges.
  2. Try to offer two or three specific suggestions for the parent to implement at home that might help the student. Offer them not as commands, but as ideas that have worked with other students.
  3. Invite the parents to contact you with any future concerns about their child's classroom progress.
  4. End the conference with a hopeful tone. Summarize the main points discussed and any steps to be taken to resolve identified problems. Again commend them for coming to the conference.
  5. Do follow up with notes or a phone call, especially if a particular problem has been identified for attention.
For New Teachers: CLICK HERE to watch a video from the Teaching Channel on how to have successful parent teacher conferences.

Here are some links I share with parents about how to make the most of the parent teacher interview:

Make the Most of Your Teacher Conference

Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences at Your Child's School

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Mindset: Fixed or Growth Part 4 - Parents and Teachers: Where Do Mindsets Come From?

In my recent posts, I have been exploring the theory of growth mindset. This post will focus on Dweck’s chapter on “Teachers and Parents: Where to Mindsets Come From?” Her premise is that as parents and teachers, we have our child’s best interest in mind when we give them praise or constructive criticism. Yet, many of us give praise or criticism that is harmful in engendering a fixed mindset without realizing our mistakes. We have to recognize that everything we say to children gives them a message. It can either be a fixed mindset message telling the child they have permanent trait and that I am judging them, or it can be a growth mindset comment telling them they are a developing person and I am interested in your development.

Consider the following statements:

a)    You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!
b)    Look at that drawing. David, is he the next Picasso or what?
c)     You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!
Most parents would hear these comments as supportive and booting the child’s self esteem. But listen more closely; this is what the child hears:
a)    If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.
b)    I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.
c)     I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I am brilliant.

After Dweck studies hundreds of children, she learned that comments like this have adverse effects on the children. “You are so smart!” “You are so talented!” “You are such a natural athlete!” All of these statements promote fixed mindset and do not promote growth and focus on effort.

Consider praise like this:
a)    You really studies for your test and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, you outlined it, and you tested yourself on it. It really worked!
b)    I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it. You thought of a lot of different ways to do it and found the one that worked!
c)     I like that you took that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work-doing the research, designing the apparatus, buying the parts, and building it. Boy, you are going to learn a lot of great things.
d)    I know that school used to be easy for you and you used to feel like the smart kid all the time. But the truth is that you weren’t using your brain to the fullest. I’m really excite about how you’re stretching yourself now and working to learn hard things.
e)    That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it.
f)     That picture has so many beautiful colors. Tell me about them.
g)    You put so much thought into this essay. It really makes me understand Shakespeare in a new way.
h)    The passion you put into that piano piece gave me a real feeling of joy. How do you feel when you play it.
When a student doesn’t do so well, consider statements like this:
a)    I liked the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what you don’t understand.
b)    We all have different learning curves. It may take more time for you to catch on to this and be comfortable with this material, but if you keep at it like this you will.
c)     Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.

Reassuring Children
The same principles apply to reassuring a child before a test or performance. Consider a student who is very smart, but often freezes up when taking tests. The night before a test, a parent could say, “Look, you know how smart you are and we know how smart you are. You’ve got this nailed. Now, stop worrying.” They thought they were being supportive, but they were just raising her anxiety level. The parents could have said, “it must be a terrible thing to feel that everyone is evaluating you and you can’t show what you know. We want you to know that we are not evaluating you. We care about your learning, and we know that you’ve learned your stuff. We’re proud that you’ve stuck to it and kept learning.”

Messages About Failure

Consider nine year old girl who is competing in her first gymnastics meet. She is a little nervous, but she is good and felt confident she would do well. She even thought about the place in her room she would place her ribbon when she wins. She proceeds to do well, but doesn’t win any ribbons. What would you say if you were her parents?
a)    Tell her you thought she was the best.
b)    Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers.
c)     Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important.
d)    Tell her she has the ability and will surely win next time.
e)    Tell her she didn’t deserve to win.
Unfortunately, many people feel the way to boost a child’s self- esteem is to protect them from failure. While this may help in the immediate problem of a child’s disappointment, it can be harmful in the long term. Why is this? Let’s consider each of the above statements:
a)    This is basically insincere. She was not the best – you know it and she knows it. This offers her no recipe for how to recover or how to improve.
b)    This places blame on others, when in fact, the problem was with her performance, not the judges. Do you want her to grow up blaming others for her deficiencies?
c)     This teaches her to devalue something if she doesn’t do well in it right away. Is this really a message you want to send?
d)    This might be the most dangersous message of all. Does ability automatically take you where you want to go? If she didn’t win this time, why should she win the next one?
e)    This seems hardhearted and you wouldn’t say it quite that bluntly, but that is exactly what one father told his daughter:
“I know how you feel. It’s so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best, but not to win. But you know, you haven’t really earned it yet. There are many girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and who’ve worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.” He also told her that if she wanted to do gymnastics purely for fun, that is fine too. But if she wanted to excel in competition, more work was required. His daughter moved on to win many competitions.

Constrictive Criticism
Constructive means to help the child fix something. Comments in this area can be very judgemental and focus on the intelligence or character, implying the defects are permanent. Here are some ways to give criticism with a growth-mindset.
a)    Son, it really makes me upset when you don’t do a full job. When do you think you can complete this?
b)    Son, is there something you didn’t understand in the assignment? Would you like me to go over it with you?
c)     Son, I feel sad when I see you missing a chance to learn. Could you think of a way to do this that will help you learn more?
d)    Son, this looks like a really boring assignment. You have my sympathy. Can you think of a way to make it more interesting? Or Let’s try to think of a way that to lessen the pain and still do a good job. Do you have any ideas?

Growth mindset type of teachers love to learn. They view teaching as a wonderful way to learn; about people, about themselves, about the material they teach and about life. Fixed-mindset teachers often think of themselves as finished products. Their role is simply to impart their knowledge.

Some final thoughts for teachers (and parents):
a)    Remember that lowering standards doesn’t raise students’ self- esteem. But neither does raising standards without giving students ways of reaching them. The growth mindset gives you a way to set high standards AND have students reach them.

b)    Do you think of your slower students as kids who will never be able to learn? Do they think of themselves as permanently dumb? Instead, try to figure out what they don’t understand and what learning strategies they don’t have. Remember that great teachers believe in the growth of talent and intelligence, and are fascinated by the process of learning.