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A Note from Principal Tony Byers: November 2017

Dear Families,

November is parent-teacher conference month at Graham and Parks. If you haven’t heard from your child’s teacher about scheduling a conference, you should be hearing from them soon. For many of you, this conference will be the longest conversation you’ve had with your child’s teacher to date, but it’s actually not a long conversation. Conferences are usually 20 minutes long; any longer and they displace teaching as the primary responsibility of teachers. But don’t worry, a lot can be done in 20 minutes if you stay focused on the primary purpose of the conference: building a shared understanding of your child in the interest of supporting their education. To do this, it’s important to come in with a clear understanding of who has what expertise. You are the expert in your child. Your child’s teacher is an expert in 4th graders, kindergartners, or whatever grade level they happen to teach. Building an accurate picture of your child’s skills, abilities, and needs is a collaborative process which only works when everybody at the table listens to and respects the others expertise and perspective. Your child’s conference is as much about listening as it is speaking.

With that said, your child’s teacher is going to say a lot of stuff, sometimes quickly. This is because they think about your child all the time, certainly during school hours, but also on the way to school, after school, while eating dinner, and sometimes when they can’t sleep at night. Teachers, especially at Graham and Parks, care deeply about their students, so their work, known as your child, is ever present in their thoughts. Squeezing two and half months of thinking into 20 minutes requires organization and speed. Don’t mistake an efficient presentation for a lack of affection. Your child’s teacher adores them, but there are things that need to be said. However, it is your responsibly and right to ask questions! We speak education, which, like every other professional language, can be confusing if it’s new to you. If something doesn’t make sense, ask for clarification.

Being on the caregiver end of a parent-teacher conference can feel overwhelming. I had my daughter’s first conference last year, and despite being on the other side of table many times, I somehow managed to exit the classroom without asking questions that were important to me. My wife and I, both former teachers, talked for weeks prior to the conference about writing our questions down, but never seemed to get around to it. So when it was time for the conference, all the new, critical information I was hearing distracted me from my original intentions.  I left the conference with my questions unanswered. Teachers aren’t mind readers; we have no idea what you want to talk about unless you tell us. And you may forget to tell us if you haven’t written some thoughts down in advance (and remembered to bring them with you). There will always be time for conversation during your conference. Be ready to make the most of it.

Most importantly, it is critical to assume positive intentions. You and your child’s teacher are on the same team, Team [Insert Your Child’s Name Here]. Children feel safe and secure and thrive when their adults work together and send consistent messages. Just as you may not always agree with your care giving partner(s), you may sometimes disagree with your child’s teacher. This is okay, provided that all parties are ready to work through their disagreements in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration. It’s seems like a small thing, but when caregivers and teachers talk and problem solve as a team, it sends a powerful message of care and support to children, something along the lines of, “we’re here for you, together.” And that’s a beautiful thing. Happy conferencing!  

Best,

Tony