Friday, November 15, 2013

Approaching the parent-teacher conference

Blog reader Sara asked on the previous post about advocating for your gifted child. The staff of the Davidson Institute posted a number of their online resources, which I recommend looking at. In this post, I'd like to talk about how people have approached parent-teacher conferences.

Ideally, there is plenty of communication going on between school and home. You've been in your child's class on occasion to help out; you've exchanged emails with the teacher already. The first parent-teacher conference isn't your first get-together, and so you've already established a working relationship.

My husband and I like to approach these things much as we would meetings for work. We discuss before hand our objectives and questions. We talk before hand with other stakeholders who won't be there (e.g. the kid himself, babysitter, etc.)

If one major objective is to convey that your child is capable of challenging work, and would like to be challenged, you want to bring in evidence to support that. Think a portfolio that represents what you see: stories the child is writing, what books he's reading, the pie charts he draws for fun in his spare time. Particularly if your child doesn't do his or her best on assessments -- because they're boring and cover stuff the kid already knows -- you want to show material that shows your own assessment of the child.

Obviously, if you've had the kid independently evaluated -- which ideally the teacher already knows about -- you'd bring that information in too.

Then, hopefully, it's a pleasant conversation -- approached as "what can we do to be supporting you" in making sure the child has work that challenges her brain and keeps her engaged. Take good notes; thank the teacher for specific examples of what's happening the class (like your kid being put in a small reading group tackling a higher-level book).

I'd love to hear how Gifted Exchange readers have approached parent-teacher conferences, and how they've gone. They've gone well for us, and I know we've been fortunate that way. I'd love to hear how you've navigated them, and I'd love to hear from teachers who read this blog about how they like them to go.


Anonymous said...

Most Parent Teacher conferences have gone well. When my daughter was in 1st Grade her teacher told me, "We are going to hold her back some on reading because she is too far advanced of the other children." I was extremely angry but did not say anything to this teacher as she had already declared her intentions. I stopped in at the school library and asked the Librarian what books I could get to help my daughter; she was very helpful and showed me several different series of books. I also checked with the Public Librarian in the children section for suggestions for books. My daughter described the books she was reading in class as baby books and told us they were too easy.

This year her teacher told us to let her read any enjoyable books she wants as she has plenty of non-fiction reading in school with science, social studies and language arts. She loves to go to the library with me and get as many books as she can.

Calee said...

I keep typing out responses and then deleting them. First grade has been incredibly challenging for my daughter and not in the academic sense. Communicating with her (first-year) teacher is frustrating and I've pretty much relegated this to another year of building social skills and reading at home.

nicoleandmaggie said...

With us it helps that we're major donors to the (private) school. There's a lot of privilege to having privilege.

'Nother Barb said...

Our conferences have usually focused on "executive functions", working as a team to keep the boys current with assignments, very helpful.

We did have the "he's at level K in reading because that's the highest level of book we have in the 2nd grade classroom" conference; he'd been at K since early 1st grade. We learned that very young/new teachers, while enthusiastic, do not have the experience to differentiate in the classroom, so we always pay attention at open house to see what THEIR level is, so we know how to approach conferences.

Our school's written policy is to disregard outside testing, even from another school, so when I brought in the 6th grader's ACT scores to talk about how to keep him moving forward, the 4 teachers did not want to look at them, so I told them (trying hard not to sound like "one of those moms"); they just looked at each other, one teacher responded "well, that's pretty high", and they assured me he'd be challenged. He was, 2 years later when he took HS trig as an 8th grader.

Anonymous said...

I am really hoping the comment about privilege is meant as a joke....

That aside, our most useful conferences were started a week before the actual conference, when the teacher sent home a brief form asking a few questions. She wanted to know what our goals for our daughter included, if there were particular concerns or issues we wanted addressed, etc, and reviewed these prior to meeting with us. I think this helped us all to use the very brief time allotment in the best way, and made sure we hit all the things we and the teacher felt were most important.

It helps to make a brief list and bring copies on any materials you want to discuss or share. It has helped tremendously when the teacher has notes prepared, as well, or a prepared packet of the child's work, relevant scores, writing examples, whatever they need to convey (sounds obvious, but we have been to all sorts of conferences).

One last issue that I find concerning- our school stops routine parent conferences after 4th grade. When your child is a 5th grader and above, you can request conferences, but they are the exception and I suspect mainly used when there is a major concern. Generally, if your child is doing well, one gets the sense that asking for a conference is kind of a burden, making extra work for the teachers when there is not a "problem" that needs to be addressed. I understand that as the kids move up in grade level, there are more teachers and staff involved and conferences involve the team, which is more difficult to schedule. However, I feel there is a real loss in communication that results from this policy.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Not a joke so much as a cynical comment on the state of the American Education System. I remember how much hassle my mom had to go through that we're just able to side-step (precisely because she went through all that trouble to get our needs met).

Anonymous said...

Our oldest is in the first grade. Kindergarten was great but now in the first grade things have just stalled. My daughter was assessed by the county as reading on a level P in kindergarten. (Their test doesn't go any higher) She tested a P again in First grade (where they have to write their answers independently) and she was put in a level K reading group (But we are going to move fast!, they insisted.) Everything has just slowly been falling apart. Now they are saying she is "distracted". Right. Luckily we are moving. I will be more proactive from day 1 at the new school.

Natalie AfterschoolForSmartyPants said...

We just had a parent-teacher conference for our second grader. We didn't even have a chance to talk much, since she was going over her report card and first trimester test scores. Our daughter does well on tests, but they don't test what she is really capable of, especially in math. Only in the very end we managed to put in our request to really test her math skills and to come up with a real plan to challenge her. And, of course, we said that we will do whatever it takes to support the school. We will continue this conversation after a break, but I want to hope that the school will find the way to accommodate its gifted learners.

HBEmom said...

My issue is similar to what several parents re pointing out. The teacher at my daughter's 4th grade class is confident that the school system will shield her since she consistently shows the highest levels in the state exams. However this excuses her disparaging comments to parents and children and constant negativity in class. She says my child is "distracted" and "unattentive", "forgetful, constantly turning work in late. When I checked with the other teacher she tag teaches with, she said my daughter was on the ball, neat, on time and a contributing member of class!!! OK....!!!
Now my kid is constantly anxious about what she might have forgotten or not done and so is in a state of constant melt down.
When I ask the teacher to maybe send me a note or an email, the response I get is "I've got 20 other kids in this class; it would be impossible for me to individualize for each kid every day!".
When I approached the guidance counselor at the school, the teacher and counselor got together and threw the issue right back at me saying that as a parent I'm putting too much pressure on my child with expectations of perfection - and my "child is only human"!! Basically telling me that I'm the problem here to my child; not the teacher who's picking on my kid (and most likely other kids too) in class.
Help! Anyone with any similar situations....any advice and who I can turn to? How can I approach the school or teacher without making life more miserable for my daughter in class.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am a 12 year old with almost the same problem. I am gifted, but everybody thinks I'm just bright. I have an iq of 200, for heavens sake! They won't put me in the gifted program because I'm too gifted! Please help!!!