Friday, March 6, 2015

Transforming Our Parent Teacher Conferences into Something Parents Want to Attend

Many of us at the high school level know that parent teacher conferences are an exercise in futility. We have them. The doors are open. We even have cookies. But the parents are few and far between. And those few parents that do venture in are typically the ones that we really don't need to see.

A few years ago, my school made a series of decisions that changed that.*****

1. It all started with our seminar. Ours is 30 minutes every day. It is used for activity meetings, study hall, down time, college visits and getting help with class. We have transformed that time period to include an advisory portion for students.When students come in as a freshman, they are assigned to a seminar with other freshman. They will stay with that seminar teacher for the next four years. Depending on class size and how many teachers are available, this group ends up somewhere around 15 students.

2. In the fall, a couple weeks after we settle into school I make my first call home. This call is an introduction of who I am and to explain that I am your child's official school contact point. If you have any questions and need to talk to someone at school, that is me. That is not to say that you cannot contact another teacher/nurse/counselor/principal directly, but if you don't really know where to start, I can help you with that. One thing we had discovered was that parents tend to be extremely intimidated by the high school building. All those teachers, all those rooms. It was just a scary, mysterious place to try and navigate if you hadn't already experienced it. Or, in the case of some parents, they HAD already experienced it and it was a terrible place to be. We are trying to remedy that version for them and make them feel welcome in our building.

3. A couple weeks later, we are into the midterm of our trimester. Our second call home is to update parents on grades and see if there are any concerns. We talk about homecoming and remind parents that there are a lot of things that their kids could be involved in. Are there concerns?

4. Parent-Teacher Conferences are held a few weeks later. We call home the week or so before and personally invite each parent to come in and meet their child's seminar teacher. If they would like to talk to any of the other teachers, we can arrange that. If the scheduled time is inconvenient, we can absolutely find a time that works. I have also been known to have this conversation in the grocery store, so we are pretty flexible about how this can go down.

5. Just before winter break, is another mid-term. Call home and keep parents updated on progress.

6. Our elementary and middle schools have PT conferences in the middle of February. This coincides exactly with the end of our second trimester, so we do not hold conferences at this time. We schedule ours a few weeks later. It is not so much a PT conference (although, of course, we can talk about grades) as it is a pre-enrollment discussion for next year. Students are asked to request their classes for next year and bring their parent in to talk about it. We go through the kid's post secondary goals and what they think they want to do when they grow up. Then we talk about how we can get them there. We discuss Kansas Scholar, Board of Regents, ACT, AP ASVAB, SAT, you name it. Are dual credit college course for you? Would AP classes be better? Or do you think you should attend VoTech classes your junior year? This discussion has been HUGE for students and parents alike, because now, kids aren't just filling out some random classes to take next year, but really put some thought into how this gets them where they want to be.

7. This is the spring trimester midterm. Another checkup on grades and answer any lingering enrollment questions.

That's it. It ends up being a situation where a parent is contacted a minimum of seven times over the course of the school year. Sometimes more, depending on whether or not the student is struggling.

This one little experiment has completely transformed our communication with parents and had such a positive impact on our home-school relationships. And it gets parents into the building. Our last PT conference boasted a 75% attendance rate. No, that is not a typo. We had three quarters of our parents visiting with teachers.

*****Disclaimer: None of this was my idea. I have had several twitter chats lately where I have mentioned how we have transformed our conferences and it has been requested that I provide more information. Twitter is the least friendly platform to try to explain all the changes we made, so I am making a post to refer to. If you would like more information, you can talk to the man who designed it, but probably not on twitter. His name is Kelly McDiffett and he is the principal at Council Grove High School. He absolutely LOVES to talk about good things in education, so plan accordingly. .

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Mistake Game in Reverse

As of late, my Chemistry class has been in kind of a whiteboarding rut. We are moving through Stoichiometry, so there is a lot of working of problems which results in a lot of whiteboarding of problems. This combined with the dreary winter weather makes us kind of complacent and we tend to zone out a little bit as our friends are up there going through the motions.

Today we went through eight problems. I noticed that not many of the kids had completed the entire worksheet and I wasn't sure if it was out of boredom or lack of understanding. But even as we were going through the whiteboards, not many of them were even copying down what was being presented.

So when we got to number five and there was a glaring mistake in the balancing of an equation, I didn't say anything. No one noticed. No one asked. So neither did I.

Three problems later, three more mistakes, but not three questions.

So at the end, I had kids get out a piece of paper. I told them that on the eight whiteboards at the front of the room, there were four mistakes. Their quiz was to find and correct these mistakes.

Kids perked up. Kids panicked. Kids got to work and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. The best part was that those kids that had not finished their homework got it out and worked through the problems from the beginning.

This is probably not something I am going to hope for very often, mostly because whiteboarding is supposed to be about checking your thinking against someone else's. I just seemed to luck out in that it came to me on a day where we really needed some variety and a little change of pace.

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