Monday, February 24, 2014

spring parent-teacher conferences

You're midway through the year and probably getting ready for the second round of parent-teacher conferences for the year. By now, you know your students well and have seen them grow as people and learners. There's still a lot of school year left, and you want to make the most of the precious few minutes you have with the families of your students.

Ahead of time, plan your main purpose/agenda for the conferences. Once this is set in your planning, prepare a note to go home for parents sharing the purpose and, of course, the dates/times. It will help have a smooth conference if there is a specific purpose in mind. I found it helpful to have a checklist of topics that I would cover in the conference that would help me and the parents stay on track. Those few minutes go by quickly! The checklist could include general impressions, progress in the academic area(s) of your class(es), assessment data, upcoming projects/assessments, strengths and areas of growth, goals for the students, and/or strategies that parents can support at home.

Preparation is critical here to help ensure that you communicate what you need to in order to help the students' progress in school. Make sure as you prepare your notes that you focus on things that can be changed, have a stance of learning from parents and working together for the good of the students, that you limit the concerns to a manageable number that can be addressed, and avoid edu-jargon when possible.

You can help make the conference go even more smoothly by preparing the parents. Have them come with some strengths and needs that they see at home. Ask them to write down their questions ahead of time, so they don't forget to ask something important.

In terms of the setting, try to have adult-sized chairs available, and avoid sitting at your desk if at all possible. Finding a more neutral spot in your room will help put parents at ease. Having some paper and pens available for parents to take notes is a great idea. I always had chocolate too.
When preparing for those conferences you might be nervous about because of student concerns in academics or behaviors, it helps to gather documentation about the concerns. This might include talking with other teachers. You will want to also think about action plans for these students, but start by inviting ideas from parents. And always start with a positive. This can set the conference off to a good start. There are more tips for preparing for conferences with parents who might be upset about something related to their child's school experience here. Learn as much as you can from parents about what has helped in the past.

At the end of the conference, settle on an action plan on which both the teacher and parents (and, if possible, student) can agree. You'll feel more prepared for the rest of the year with your students, and parents will know what they can do to support their student at home. Keeping the student at the center of the conference is key!

Monday, February 10, 2014

guest blogger: managing co-teaching

 Guest Blogger: Randy Johnson, PAR Consulting Teacher for St. Paul Public Schools
Who’s This Person in My Room? aka The Perils of Co-Teaching

For many districts, including mine, co-teaching is becoming a more and more common strategy to address both the need for less restrictive environments for students with special needs, and as a strategy to reduce the achievement gap for our students of color, particularly African American males. (The unfortunate data is, students of color are significantly over-represented in Special Education).

As a new teacher you may welcome the idea of having a colleague to bounce ideas, to provide “back up” when behaviors escalate, or to share the work of planning, presenting and grading student work.

On the other hand, you may also feel hesitant to have someone in your room, watching, and sometimes questioning, your methods. Your co-teacher may want to do things in a way that goes against your beliefs or style.

How can you develop a truly collaborative partnership where students benefit from both teachers’ perspectives, styles and areas of expertise? Early in the relationship, one beneficial activity to consider is a sit-down meeting to discuss what is important to you and to your partner.

Things to consider in this meeting could be:

  • What is a comfortable noise level for the classroom when students are working in groups?
  • What role do you want to play in the instruction of lessons?
  • When and where would you like to meet to plan our lessons?
  • How comfortable are you with changing the plan based on informal assessments in the classroom?
  • What are important expectations, rituals and routines you would like established in our class?
  • Who will address behavior concerns with our special education and general education students?
  • How will we share time delivering instruction, grading, connecting with parents?

The list could go on, but the idea should be clear:  just like any relationship, you need to know what each person brings to the partnership, where each of their strengths lie, and what each can do to enhance the classroom experience for students.  The General Education teacher is usually the content expert, knowing the standards and benchmarks inside and out. The Special Education teacher has a toolbox filled with approaches to make the curriculum accessible to more students through various differentiation strategies and behavior management systems.

Just playing it by ear can lead to a good deal of discomfort, as well as a less than optimal experience for you, your co-teacher, and especially the students.  As with most things in education, going slow at the beginning allows you to go faster throughout the year.