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Connecting the Schoolhouse to Your House

The parent teacher conference needs to evolve for the 21st Century-for the sake of our kids. Spend any amount of...

The parent teacher conference needs to evolve for the 21st Century-for the sake of our kids.

Spend any amount of time in education circles and you'll soon hear the phrase "home-school connection." It's simple really: Parents and teachers should collaborate to support the child. Sounds good, but as someone who's been a teacher and is now a parent, I've seen both sides. The home school connection is definitely broken.In my time on the teacher side of the fence, I've seen too many educators who don't want parents involved. Parents ask questions and make demands. Thanks to my two sons, I also get to hop to the parent side where I see too many moms and dads who don't want to hear negative feedback about their children, or worse yet, just want the teachers to fix everything.When my own son came home with a progress report full of previously uncommunicated information-both positive and negative-the report made me think about how a true connection can't happen with only two or three conversations a year. No one's communicating effectively in this model. Why do you think so many teachers and parents dread parent teacher-conferences?Parents and teachers need to meet each other at the 21st century fence and change the frequency and quality of their interaction. We live in a tech savvy age with constant communication via text and email. But, other than a formal, written progress report halfway through the grading period, and the report card and conference-at which attendance is often optional for parents-months can go by without parents and teachers talking about a child's academic progress.Too many teachers keep to the minimal contact mandated by their principals, either because they don't want more, they lack the time, or they simply don't know how to reach out. Not wanting more contact is a sign a teacher may be struggling, and parents should definitely reach out to an administrator for support. Time is an issue for everyone these days, so although frequent in-person meetings would be great, teachers can't stay at school until 7 p.m. to meet working parents. Fortunately, technology can help provide alternate solutions to time and skill issues.Growing numbers of teachers create classroom websites or blogs and post what their class will be learning that week and what assignments are due. One of my son's teachers, a nearly 30-year veteran, regularly emails or texts me about how my kid is doing in class. Because of the frequency of contact, I get to see the whole picture of my child's educational experience, not just the high points, like a great test score, or the low points, like when he's a bit too talkative.An increasing number of K-12 schools use third party sites where parents log in and view their children's grades and homework. In districts that use such services, up to 70 percent of parents say they check their children's progress at least once a week and feel more connected to the school. If parents like these sites and teachers like them, why aren't they in every school? Sure there's a digital divide that limits tech access in lower income areas, but the overall foot-dragging by schools around using such services is a sign that connecting parents and teachers is not a huge priority.Communicating quality information isn't just enabling parents to look up a test score on a web site, and technology can't be the answer to everything. So my son got a 95 percent on his test. Great. But what concepts did he master, what's he still missing, and what's the plan to help him learn?Parents don't need to just hear a teacher say: "Your child is behind in writing," and show a test result. They should hear: "On five different writing assignments, your child had a hard time focusing on a main idea. Here's why I think that's happening, and here's what we can do together to help him."Though parents share the responsibility to build the home-school connection, teachers are the paid professionals, so they need to take the lead. Added bonus: If teachers step up, they will never have to hear another parent complain about not knowing his or her child needs extra help.We have a broken status quo where teachers grumble that parents can't handle criticism of their children, and parents leave conferences feeling like they've sat through a performance review with a bad manager; they head home feeling completely blindsided with negative information. When this has happened to me, I've found it difficult to trust the teacher's expertise. The bottom line though is the child misses out most. If schools are serious about fixing student achievement, they'll fix the home-school connection.

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