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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Put students in charge of parent-teacher meetings

Around this time, kids across the country (after feeling euphoric and content during the holiday break) will start to experience a slow feeling of dread come over them.

The winter term is ending, grades are being calculated and by month’s end, report cards will be sent home. Duh-duh-duh! All of this, of course, will be followed by the obligatory and sometimes tense parent teacher conference. But these meetings needn’t be so awkward or angst-inspiring.

Among the best ideas Al Summers said he ever instituted as a middle school teacher was to place his students in charge of these face-to-face progress reports.

“It’s different than a teacher-led conference, where a kid is usually there only if it’s a bad meeting,” Summers, who is director of professional development at the National Middle School Association, says. “When it’s student-led, the student says ‘Here were my goals in the beginning of the class, here’s my grade and the places I’ve met my goals, and here’s what I will do to reach the ones I haven’t yet.’ The teacher is used as a resource.”

The strategy not only worked to double parent attendance rate to about 85 percent, but it also helped instill in students one of the greatest predictors of future academic success: ownership.

“The really successful middle schools … are the ones that have democratic classrooms, where the students truly have a say in what they learn, how they learn it, and their progress,” Summers says.

To learn more about what schools are doing to help students successfully move into middle school and beyond, read my story, “School Transitions Made Easy” in this month’s American School Board Journal .

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

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