Trick or treat: how are you going to handle school conferences?

Trick or treat:  how are you going to handle school conferences?
Beware: rigor mortis at school.

For many parents and students, Halloween is a tripwire. Time to start thinking about conferences and that ritual sort of spooks them. Haunted by concerns, the operative question becomes, “should I raise them.” I’d go with the wizard’s philosophy. As Harry Potter claimed in the Deathly Hallows, “I’m going to keep going until I succeed.”

Seriously, conferences can be an excellent time to make certain your child is getting more than a skeleton of an education. Parents often hold back because they wonder if their expectations are reasonable. They also fear that if they raise an issue at conferences, teachers will take revenge on their child (or a sibling). I’m not a fan of masking a problem. If something is troubling you, as the parent, it is most likely troubling your child. I believe that someone on the educational ladder (social worker, former teacher, principal, superintendent, board member) will care and will provide support and meaningful problem solving opportunities.

Do spend time thinking about how to raise the issue. Talk to your child, identify the issue, gather evidence to support your concerns, and then aim for the “target,” discussion, at conferences or another ripe time. I often recommend that both parents attend a “potentially charged” conference for two reasons: better recall, plus there’s a second person around just in case emotions escalate.

I believe that teachers and parents have an obligation to advocate for their charges. Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate to be trained by and later collaborate with one of the best educational advocates ever, Carol Morreale, an icon in the field of gifted education, revered by those who knew her. Below is an abridged synthesis of her beliefs:

Rights of Students*

ALL students need and deserve an equal opportunity:
…to stretch their minds around new and difficult curriculum content, maximize their potential, and demand the use of higher-level thinking;
…to learn how to learn, which requires organization skills, study skills, and persistence;
…to feel part of a group and to learn together with intellectual peers [critical for gifted students] for at least part of every school day;
…to have their abilities recognized and challenged early;
…to develop their uniqueness in a psychologically nurturing environment;
…to be fully engaged in the learning process;
…to be free from discrimination based on intellect, gender, race, poverty, or age; and
…to experience the joy of learning and succeeding, a feeling which is contagious, and has life-long positive effects.

Signed, Carol J. Morreale, … No rights reserved. Excessive copying is encouraged.*

To some, this list may appear quite philosophical. Try to put these expectations in context so that you can apply them to your child’s situation. Below are examples of issues that I’ve seen parents successfully raise:

1. Pacing of work (including grade level acceleration)
2. Isolation on the playground
3. Time with the gifted teacher and intellectual peers
4. Cross grade instruction
5. Cross school instruction
6. Curriculum compacting
7. Modification of curriculum, particularly in cases where twice exceptional students (gifted and LD) had not been appropriately challenged

Your children spend a lot of time at school and they deserve to be respected, motivated,** and engaged. Theoretically, schools claim to do this. Quite honestly, I was thrilled to see that CPS expressly lists engagement and rigor when it describes its instructional objectives. ***

Hold your teachers to their promise of student engagement and rigor. Follow up with emails and other conferences if the problem persists. The best way to handle this is to craft an action plan after meeting with the teacher.

Bottom line: There’s no reason to be spooked by advocacy. When well thought out, it’s just good parenting and good teaching. Wishing you a plethora of treats!

*I have the full text of Morreale’s Rights of Students. Email me if you are interested.

**IAGC Parent Academy, 11/01, noon to 5, see upcoming events on iagc.org (Stern is a presenter on motivation).

*** http://cps.edu/Pages/home.aspx. “

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