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Parent-Teacher Conferences Conversations

We work toward "...the establishment of harmony, between the work and activities of home life and school tasks, making both work together for the education of the child."
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

Parent-Teacher ConferenceA number of years ago, as I was frantically preparing reports for parent-teacher conferences, my colleague mentioned to me how she was looking forward to the process. When I questioned her about it, she said she loves to get acquainted with her students' parents, and defines the conference as a "conversation." That subtle suggestion shifted my entire approach.

Both parents and teachers feel the pressure of being responsible for the progress of their children. Both want what's best for the children, so they can learn and grow. As Montessori teachers of young children, we want to reduce the competitive atmosphere so prevalent in today's culture. By having conversations rather than more formal conferences, we can all help the atmosphere shift.

Though you may depend on the written reports as a script to follow, it's wise to focus on conversing with parents about family and school first, and then briefly review the report at the end of the meeting. These meetings are a valuable opportunity to learn more about your students and to discuss your teaching philosophy.

Building a Relationship

Think of meeting with parents as getting acquainted with new friends. Ask about the family: siblings, routines, work, and whatever else comes to mind as you chat. Talk about specifics—their child's academic progress as well as personality traits, sensitivities, and social skills.

Chances are that you'll both have similar insights. I recall describing to one mother her daughter Susan's morning routine and sweet shyness. Susan would arrive and quietly greet the staff, hang up her coat, and take a Cylinder Block to a corner table where she could view the whole classroom. She took her time before interacting with others or tackling more challenging work. Smiling and nodding, her mother said, "That's my Susan—independent, reserved, and timid."

Gaining understanding about a child's history and family dynamics allows us to be more sensitive and compassionate. If there are areas of concern, explore further—ask about family dynamics and recent or ongoing family events or challenges, such as a disabled sibling, a sick grandparent, or an out-of-work parent. Feel free to talk briefly about yourself, too. You might explain why you became a Montessori teacher.

Listen to and observe parents as you would a child. Respect and genuine feedback go a long way in building a positive relationship. Ask yourself if you are really hearing the parent, or just listening to your own thoughts about that person. Both parents and teachers are seeking to understand the child's behavior.

Reporting the Positive Specifics

Written reports at the primary level are usually descriptive, stating what a child has worked with and mastered. For kindergarten children, there is more to measure, including readiness for elementary work, though it is still preferable to avoid comparisons.

When telling parents about a child's work and behavior, begin by describing two positive traits or accomplishments. Follow these positives with a "needs to work on" goal, detailing how it's being addressed in the classroom and what a parent might do at home to support it. Finish with another positive by discussing what you enjoy about this child. Remember the formula: "Plus, plus, minus, plus."

Montessori Uniqueness

Some parents have limited knowledge about the school's philosophy, so sharing key points about the Montessori system of education can be invaluable. Explain how the Montessori environment is different, with mixed ages, freedom to choose work, and working at one's own pace. You'll need to spend more time educating first-year parents, but even for those returning, focus on one or two key Montessori concepts. Remember to encourage parents' attendance at the educational programs provided by the school.

Teachers Are Experts

Parents look to teachers as the experts, especially since they have had extensive education in child development. Your knowledge can go a long way in reassuring them about what is normal and to be expected, as well as giving helpful hints to encourage a child's independence. Your explanations about the importance of adequate sleep, daily routines, and respect for a child are valuable, too.

Ongoing Communication

It's always preferable to talk face-to-face. Emails, no matter how clearly written, can easily be misinterpreted. When a parent has a concern or desire to know about a situation, reply as directly and quickly as possible, either by talking at pick-up time or making a phone call.

A positive, friendly relationship between parents and teachers makes communication more natural and seamless. It allows conferences to be more conversational and relaxed, too—a real pleasure.

"Montessori realized that the work of the young child was the construction of himself."
—Nancy Rambusch, Learning How to Learn

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2018

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