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New parent conference model met with positive response in first year

Leslie Richardson and Elizabeth Sanders, Grade-level Directors

There was an incredible buzz on campus last week, and it wasn't (only) due to the construction projects wrapping up before the start of school…

As our facilities team put the finishing touches on our learning spaces, parents arrived on campus for what is likely to become a new PBS tradition: parent–teacher conferences just before the launch of the school year. One parent remarked, “It was so wonderful to see other parents after summer. As I walked to my son’s class to meet his new teacher, I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Everyone was so happy to be back on campus! I was almost late for my conference because everyone was enjoying the chance to catch up.”

Another parent explained, “I was initially skeptical, and it was mostly around the scheduling. But, this was a really good idea – to have the chance to talk about where we are as a family after the summer and to begin our grown-up relationship with a conversation where the teacher was mostly listening and asking a lot of questions.”

Both new and veteran faculty shared with us that they loved meeting with their new parents before the kick-off of the school year. During January parent–teacher conferences, teachers often feel there is so much to share with families that they end up doing most of the talking. This felt like an opportunity to invite two-way communication and for teachers to shift to the role of listener.

We think a lot about the ways that we can build strong partnerships with families while enhancing our school community. When we first announced this new August parent–teacher conference in a Gazette article on January 24, some parents reached out to understand the Why? behind this addition to our calendar. Did we really want to shorten our summer vacations by two days? (Yes.) How did teachers feel about losing two of their preparation days to meet all their new families? (Great, with advance notice.)

The conversation about adding this to our school calendar began in the summer of 2016, during the Phillips Brooks Summer Institute (PBSi). The faculty working group expressed a hope to have more informal opportunities to talk with their families. In our busy lives, the chance to find the time to sit down for an in-person conversation without a prescribed agenda became an action item for us.

We also noticed, in our roles as early-childhood and elementary educators, that it can be difficult for students to have an abrupt transition from a summer schedule to a school-day routine. By scheduling the August conferences on the Thursday and Friday before school, we were intentionally building a buffer of down-time over the weekend to help families get back into more typical home routines before our start on Monday.

Thank you to the entire PBS community for embracing this new idea! We will continue to look for ways to improve our conferences and other modes of parent interaction, and we welcome your ongoing feedback!

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. Elizabeth Sanders joined the community in 2013 as our 4th-grade lead teacher and transitioned in 2017 to the role of Director of 3rd–5th Grade and Specialists.

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