two parents and one teacher

Who Needs Parent-Teacher Conferences? Kids, That’s Who

Avoiding technology's isolation of parents

by Steve Clark

paths choiceOur nation is at a critical crossroads. It is vital that we choose the better road ahead. Our schools are questioning long-standing conventions, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but any new direction is enormously important. Natural continuity extends our choices into trends. Trends are harder to change than if we had made a better choice at the outset. Any parent or teacher knows this. When it comes to the gift of promise that every child receives from their path of education, the quality of that gift depends more heavily upon the unity of parent and teacher efforts than ever before. Our crossroads is about what parent-teacher teamwork will look like in the years to come, and which new road you will point to.

Educational technology (EdTech) is becoming a dominant force in the classroom, and it is accelerating the evolution of educational methodologies. Both of these changes create a flux of relativity with teachers not having many years of experience using the latest apps and devices, and parents feeling the lament of their own obsolescence. While everyone is earnestly trying to best serve the needs of the student, without unity and consistency the impact can be muted, contentious, or even harmful. The need for “whole person” development, mastery of learning, extreme problem-solving, and workplace collaboration are the primary factors facing every high school graduate. If our parents and teachers are not in lock-step agreement on “what is needed this year” the child’s progress will be compromised.

In some schools we are seeing a trend where teachers are following the lure of a bad idea (Are Parent-Teacher Conferences Becoming Obsolete?). EdTech that allows parents to view their child’s digital portfolio is being used as an excuse to do away with relationship-building interactions. The school district is falling into the trap that asynchronous technology provides to our society – a chance to distance ourselves from time consuming person-to-person interactions. But, at what cost?

rubic cube on child headEvery child is their own unique mixture of wants, ideas, ambitions, excitement, fear, ability, and discipline. Every child’s mind has its own unique learning style, level of intellect, emotionalism, contextual knowledge, and health. In short, for every teacher and parent, figuring out the needs and best influence for each child is a highly complex, critically important, and wholly unique puzzle. To work on such a puzzle isolated from each other is irresponsible at the least, and criminally careless at worst.

Just because technology allows us to distance ourselves from people doesn’t mean we should. Learning how to work collaboratively is important in most every job. So why not use parent-teacher conferences as both a team-building event for the purpose of improving the child’s development and as a dress rehearsal to practice the very things the student will need to learn at both school and home?

If we are going to follow the trends of technology we are getting it backwards. Technology is created to serve our purposes, not the other way around. Instead of changing our human behaviors (“Let’s talk about your child’s needs.”) to match up with technology’s next provision (“If you care about your kid you can log on and figure things out.”), we need to require EdTech companies to create interactive learning and communication systems whereby teachers can post updates and parents can investigate unknowns. Even if we fall into the errant belief that eliminating parent-teacher meetings is going to save everyone a lot of time and increase instruction, it is just as easy to realize that the resulting outcome of less “unified messaging” will be detrimental to the child’s growth. What we need to do is choose better paths. Parents need to know how valuable and impactful their role is. They need to grasp the importance of improving their impact. And they need to be given facilitated opportunities to help them improve.

We live in a time of increasing pressure on children. We are seeing more suicides, school shootings, cyber bullying, and rage-filled expressions. We need to do better. Thankfully, some schools are doubling down on parent interaction and creating many more meetings, discussions, workshops, and other forms of team-like learning instead of decreasing such things. In one Washington Post article extolling the benefits of increased interaction, Rethinking the parent-teacher conference: Meeting more often, working as a team, we can see the intuitively obvious benefits of caring people working together to do their best. From such efforts will come original ideas and stated needs that EdTech companies should look at and say, “This is big. This is important. If we come up with a system that supports this want we can sell it to all the schools.” And that’s how better uses of technology come to fruition. This is how we can choose a better road.

father_son_hands_holding_woodsParents don’t want to quit on their children. They don’t want to feel marginalized, irrelevant, or obsolete. Parents want to live a full life of joyful interaction with their children. They want to establish good, respectful and balanced dialogue. They want to be a confidant – trusted with “Inside information” instead of being excommunicated. They want to inspire their children, and then be appreciated years later when the child knows why they did better in life. The question isn’t, “How do we minimize our role and retreat to our devices?” The question I have, and hope all teachers and parents also have, is, “Will we – as a society, as communities and neighborhoods, as families, and as the ones who are most responsible for caring about our children’s path of promise – just stumble along like a drunkard, intoxicated by the siren call of technology’s easier isolation, or will we shake off our stupor and give the time, make the effort, and do what’s important for the sake of these children who rely on us?”

Which road will you choose? Why?

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