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Approaching mid-year parent–teacher conferences with a growth mindset

Leslie Richardson and Jordan McCarthy, Grade-level Directors

January parent–teacher conferences are a wonderful opportunity for PBS families and faculty to connect. It’s a great time to reflect together, share observations on the first four months of the school year, celebrate student progress, and envision goals for the remainder of the year. In addition to setting aside dedicated time for a conversation with your child’s teachers, conferences also provide an important touchpoint on how your child is engaging with the PBS program.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s something to consider, from Chip Wood’s book, Yardsticks:

Growth is uneven. Like the seasons, the tides, the turning of the earth on its axis and around the sun, the birth and death of stars, the music of the universe – there is an ebb and flow to life that is mystical and spiritual as well as natural. Babies are calm at one time of day, fretful at another. Children are more easygoing at one age, more resistant at others. Learning seems to come in spurts followed by periods of consolidation. Obvious periods of sudden physical growth are often followed by periods of little notable physical change. This shifting back and forth is a normal part of the life cycle and appears to continue into adulthood.

You may be interested in checking this book out as a useful resource; it helps define and honor children’s developmental needs from ages four to fourteen, covering growth patterns as well as typical classroom abilities within physical, cognitive, and social realms. We have copies of this book in the PBS Library, as well as in our office, if you’re interested.

Framing the discussion: Progress Reports and ERB scores

One tool for framing the discussion is the PBS Progress Report, which will be sent out to families via email on Friday, January 18. Here are some helpful tips to guide your progress report reading: 


Preschool and pre-Kindergarten families will receive a narrative progress report. You can expect to read about strengths and growth opportunities in social and cognitive development, as well as any information about your child’s burgeoning independence and approach to playing and learning. 


In K-5, the progress report combines a narrative from your child’s lead teacher and a detailed matrix of assessments in emotional intelligence, mathematics, literacy, and specialist areas. In each content area, a child’s progress to date on a number of benchmarks is assessed on a scale from “not yet demonstrated” to “demonstrates independently” and to help put those assessments in context, blue shading will indicate the expected performance at this point in the year. Bullets above or below this blue line are great topics for conversation; however, remember that each assessment is a small part of the overall context of the entire progress report and narrative.  

ERB Score Reports

As mentioned in November and December, PBS administers the ERB Comprehensive Testing Program standardized assessment to 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders for four reasons:

  1. To provide practice for our students in taking group-administered standardized tests.
  2. To help us monitor the growth and achievement of each child in the context of independent school norms.
  3. To help us identify specific curricular areas that the school can further refine and enrich.
  4. To help us identify individual students in need of additional support or test-taking strategies.

With 3rd-graders, we expect a wide range of scores in each child’s report. In 4th and 5th grades, the scores tend to move closer together and better represent a child’s reading, writing, and math skills. The ERB Parent Guide may help support your understanding and interpretation of the score report. 

Your child’s teacher will set aside time during your January parent–teacher conference to discuss these scores in the context of your child’s school year. Please remember that the primary goal of the conference is to discuss your child’s experience in the PBS curriculum and community, and most of the time will be dedicated to this ongoing conversation.

FAQs: Sharing feedback with students

How can we preview the parent–teacher conference with our child?
  • Ask: “Is there anything important for me to talk about with your teachers?” 
  • If your child tends to worry, please reassure them that this meeting is not about them being in trouble. It’s a time for parents and teachers to share ideas so that school feels comfortable and safe, and to help keep PBS a great place for learning. 
Should we share ERB scores or progress report results directly with our child?

While the ERB test results and PBS progress reports include information that teachers and parents can use to contextualize student learning, the school strongly recommends that parents refrain from sharing either with students directly. The reports are not written for a student audience, and observations or assessments that are straightforward from an adult perspective may take on an unintended life of their own from a child’s perspective.

If you'd like to use progress report and conference information to start a dialogue at home, we recommend hosting that conversation after conferences are complete. With new knowledge of your child's progress so far this year, this is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children to form a close collaboration with their teacher on future goals.

How can we follow up with our child after the conference?

Ask your child about their feelings on the first half of the year.

  • “What are you enjoying about school? What has been challenging?”
  • “What is something you want to keep working on?”
  • “Is there anything you think your teacher might have said you're working on?”

Name and celebrate a specific strength or two. 

  • “Your teachers have said that you are trying really hard during writing time. Way to go!” 
  • “We learned that you are really flexible during recess or if something unexpected happens.”
  • “During math, it sounds like you are trying lots of ways to solve problems.” 

Provide some perspective for growth in areas that are more challenging for the child:

  • “Everyone is working on something.  It sounds like you can focus on being kind when working with others during project time.”
  • “Tell me more about ______”  
  • “Your teacher mentioned that you work well with graphic organizers to help organize your thinking.  We are excited to see how that works with you. How could we support you at home with this?”
  • “Let’s figure out together how we can help make ______ feel better.” 
  • “What could we do differently about ____?”

A final thought

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

Leslie Richardson has served in a number of roles at PBS since 2010: K–2 Learning Specialist, Learning Support Coordinator, Director of Teaching and Learning, and now Director of Preschool–2nd Grade. Before PBS, she taught for 10 years as a classroom and literacy specialist and worked as an editor in educational publishing. Jordan McCarthy joined the community in 2016 as a 3rd-grade lead teacher and transitioned in 2018 to the role of Director of 3rd–5th Grade and Specialists.

This article was originally published on January 8, 2018. It has been updated and reposted.


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