Parent-teacher conferences at a parent cooperative

It was arrival time, a time to check in with the children as they come in. Sometimes, a quick hello will work, while others need more time and attention. What began as a quick check-in rolled out with the following conversation... Me: "Oh, you came in with the parking co-oper today! That's new and different."

Him: "Yes."

Me: "You have tears collected in your eyes though, was it hard?"

Him: "........"

Making connections

It was one of those moments when you are talking to a child and that child suddenly realizes that you might have some kind of spooky superpower and can see into children's souls. He stopped talking, he tried to check his eyes for collected tears, without touching them. It was as if he was thinking, "E-Y-E-S! Collected tears???"

It is not really a superpower. Sometimes it is just luck and other times it  is a bit of that specialized knowledge of non-verbal communication that nursery school teachers pick up over time. Because of his reaction, I knew I needed to wait to see if he wanted to tell me anything more about it.

Him: "Weeeelllll, I wasn't crying. I was laughing. Laughing so hard that my eyes got wet."

Yes, of course. I love my job.


This year, during our international staff meetings via google hangout with Kierna Corr of Learning for Life and Martin Besford of Highway Farm Activity Centre, I was encouraged to return to an original practice -- to hold parent teacher conferences earlier in the year and to shape them around a casual conversation with parents. Rather than coming to the meetings with my set observations and checklists, I would rely more on parent input. This is such a natural fit for our school. We are committed to the idea that parents are both the first teachers and our partners in the classroom. It is the heart of the cooperative model.

The most important thing though, is that it moved the 34 conferences I need to hold in the beginning of the year from late November and December to October. I had placed this heavy burden on myself to collect, document, and hammer out every detail in advance of the meetings when all that I really needed to do was sit down with the parents and learn and share. At some point along the way, I moved away from the casual check-ins for a more organized check-in with documentation to share with parents. This is certainly not wrong because we know that documentation is valued by many parents. Note: our documentation is an adaption of Focused Portfolios (also see: Portfolios at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School).

Hidden revealed

Here is what I learned. I learned that our laughing-so-hard-he-had-collected-tears, had indeed been crying. He had figured out something by himself, for himself, and he wanted that to be a separate chapter of his day, separate from his school day. I learned that he would like to start fresh each day. I learned that another child recalls every single moment of the day, every nuance of our activities and the books we read. He shares these with his mother and father. I learned that his memory and his need to connect the events of his school day would happen later, with his mother and father who are ready to add context and connections with him. I was able to talk with the parents about their hopes for their children in nursery school and in this way, each child will have true partners in his and her teaching team. We have checked in with each other for a common understanding.

Any and all of this could still be revealed during a conference in November, but I am so appreciative that I went ahead and scheduled the conferences earlier than usual. Time will tell if this is a practice I will continue, but for now, from my perspective, it is lovely, refreshing, and reinvigorating. Although I still have a handful of conferences left (each conference is 30 minutes so it takes days to complete all of them), I am looking forward to seeing things differently, with new perspective.