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NMSD stresses that school conferences foster student growth and community connection

COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Primary School Instructional Assistant Alesiya Royal, who brings joy to her school with stunning fall art displays, says that, as a mom, she always looks forward to parent-teacher conferences to find out how to best support her second-grader and kindergartner. With information on grades and attendance available digitally and with lots of quick, easy ways to communicate online, it might seem like parent-teacher conferences would have gone the way of the telegraph.

However, during fall conferences, this year held on Oct. 19 and 20, North Marion staff from every school on campus shared their views, agreeing that the sessions still make a difference. Staff said these sit-down sessions help teachers foster student growth and strengthen a community connection among students, teachers, and parents.

Growth: School staff and parents discuss academic and attendance goals for students at the conferences. The conferences take place in both the fall and the spring every year. This allows parents and teachers to measure student progress within a year, from fall to spring, as well as from year to year. That helps teachers shepherd students toward their ambitions and shows parents where their children stand on that journey.

Connection: Besides helping track progress, these in-person conferences are an ideal form of communication. Researchers say that face-to-face conversations provide key social signals that make it easier to understand one another. Plus, teachers can enjoy that bright spark of happiness fluttering over the faces of students and families, while they can also more easily respond to even a slight flicker of pain or sadness if not all is proceeding as planned.

Connection

Middle School Social Sciences Teacher John Young joked that parent-teacher conferences might at first seem like "vestigial organs," such as the wings of a flightless bird. Yet Young was quick to clarify that these in-person conversations forge vital connections with families.

"It's wonderful to meet the child's parents and to get to know them, and to communicate to them that I'm very proud of their child," said Young, who also teaches English/Language Arts (ELA).

It is far easier to communicate any message, even such a caring one, with the addition of body language and an instant response without that tiny lag that confuses our brain, no matter the speed of our internet connection. That lag is actually a part of the reason that video conferences can be so tiring, researchers say.

This year, Young will get the chance to connect with many more parents in person, and parents will also have more opportunities to speak with teachers, as well. That's not just because the state's social distancing guidance changed this year.

At the Middle School, parent feedback resulted in an opportunity to meet all of their children's teachers (including educators in PE, ELA, math, AVID, and more) and not solely the homeroom teacher, Principal Tami Badinger explained. Badinger called that a positive change, as there are opportunities for a child to improve their performance in every classroom because of the knowledge and abilities that all of these educators bring.

"The classroom rocks the world when they're safe and have that affective aspect," Badinger said. "Teachers rock the world."

Growth

Although parents and teachers often direct them, students can impact their own growth, as well. At the High and Middle schools, these spring and fall check-in sessions are called Student-Led Conferences because the teens are in charge of delivering a presentation to their parents and teachers that demonstrates academic progress. At the Middle School, students receive a script that they can follow. It contains instructions on how to lead a presentation, including suggested topics, such as what the students have been learning and what their organizational goals are.

This process highlights a student's achievements and their evolution from fall to spring or year to year. That growth matters to parents and teachers and not just from an academic perspective. High School Learning Specialist Lori Bradley, who works in special education, said that it moves her to witness the extent of the change in seniors whom she has taught since freshman year.

"It helps me to realize that, after four years, I've seen them grow up," Bradley said.

In the Primary and Intermediate schools, parents and teachers lead the conferences. These meetings serve as points from which to measure progress, just as they do at the upper grades. That information helps parents support teachers in guiding their children's educational growth in the right direction, through work done at school — and at home.

"As a parent, I look forward to conferences to see where my kid is at because what we do at home pairs with what we do at school," said Primary School Instructional Assistant Alesiya Royal, a mother of a kindergartner and second-grader at the school. "It helps me understand better what the teacher's goals are with the standards and helps my kids get there. We are like partners, so what's happening at school, it's important."

Kiley Mehlbrech, the Student Services Specialist at the Intermediate School, agreed that the progress report has value for teachers and parents to monitor and advance a child's growth in both home and school settings. She noted that these conferences also help the students know what the expectations are so that they can fulfill them.

"It holds them accountable," Mehlbrech noted.

Creating these expectations and goals is only possible when parents, teachers, and students work together to find that jumping off point during conferences and to create opportunities for academic growth. The whole North Marion community also connects during this important time of year, drawing together a whole team of supporters to help every child succeed.

To share stories on the North Marion School District, email Communications Specialist Jillian Daley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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