There is now a large weight of evidence that tells us clearly that we should never underestimate the significance of the school/ teacher – parent relationship in terms of its potential impact on a child’s learning success in school (and even the attitude that the child carries in to adult life towards the pursuit of learning). One of the most important elements in this relationship in today’s schools is the parent-teacher meeting. However, as we all know, this is all too frequently a disappointing and frustrating experience for both parents and teachers. It can also be the cause of a great deal of anxiety for both (and for some children).
This article highlights one very critical factor – the ‘ghost in the classroom’ – the past experiences, positive or negative in school and classrooms that impacts on parents’ and teachers’ ability to have an effective adult to adult dialogue about the child as an individual learner and how, together they can best support that child’s learning and development;
On the ‘ghost in the classroom’ issue, I even once met with a parent for whom the school Head’s office held such bad memories that when he sat with me his hands were visibly shaking. To put him at ease, so that we could have a sensitive and productive meeting, I took him outside and we walked around the school grounds – where he immediately relaxed.
Regrettably, what I’ve seen in far too many schools is that the PTM gets treated as a necessary evil, an administrative burdensome task that has to be got through/ survived. In some schools lots of ‘busy’ activity is created that distracts the children and their parents.
One of the sad results is that by the time children reach about class 6 the attendance of parents drops off considerably and the level of interest or expectation from PTMs diminishes. Then, it often picks up again starkly for classes 9 onwards, but then all discussion is based entirely on how an extra few percentages of achievement in standardised tests can be squeezed out of the child, how they can be ‘made’ to work harder. Then, this gets accompanied by a bit of discussion about university admissions opportunities. There tends to be very little that is ‘holistic’ about the discussions – which is, to me, an acknowledgement that there’s nothing very holistic about the education at that stage.
The article shares links to some interesting resources, not only useful for parents who want to get the best out of such meetings with their child’s teacher, but also of great use for teachers and those who train them. As the article quite rightly points out, not enough time is given in most schools to training teachers to carry out this vital part of their work to the highest standards. More training in this area undoubtedly brings higher levels of confidence, enabling the teacher to believe that he/ she will be effective in getting across their professionalism, the sense that they and the parent are on the same side working in the interest of the child and that these conferences are something to value, not to dread.
The article also touches on the debate that goes on about whether or not the child should be part of the meeting. My personal belief is that they should. In a corporate and leadership environment I was always taught that HR and performance appraisal meetings with employees should always work on a ‘no surprises’ principle. The same should apply here. If the child is present there shouldn’t be anything that’s being said by parent or teacher that comes as a surprise to them. Instead, they will quickly come to understand that this is a form of ‘teamwork’ committed to them being able to put in their best effort and learn most effectively.