Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Context. Connections. Community.

          Context. Connections. Community. These are the elements of Parent/Teacher evenings that I value most. Yes, they're also about important conversations centred around student learning. And for my students, those conversations will be self directed. But as essential as those conversations are, for me it's the additional level of context, or insight into a students' life that is the most rewarding element of such a night.
          Facilitating Student Led conferences allows me the luxury of inviting more than just the "obligatory" parent into my classroom. Unlike some more traditionally structured parent/teacher interviews, Student Led conferences can be designed as a celebration of learning, where students are encouraged to share their successes, triumphs and challenges with parents, siblings, aunts, cousins or any other significant individual in their lives that they choose. I've written in previous posts about how essential it is to learn the stories of our students, and how this can often be a daunting task. I teach in a school of close to 1500 students...that a lot of stories to learn! But an essential piece of those stories is missing if we aren't inviting our communities into our schools. Each piece that I can add to that very complex puzzle provides context, context that informs how I can best support and empower my students in their learning and growth.
          One particular "story" comes to mind. A grade 11 boy. Typically quiet, even sullen in class. Try as I might, I couldn't get this kid to crack a smile. And believe me, I tried. As the time for Student Led Conferencs approached, I was pretty sceptical that this particlar student would attend. No surprise that for most teens, the prospect of having a conversation with families about "their learning" isn't exactly met with great enthusiasm. It takes some preparation and encouragement on my part, and the sincere promise that students will be determining the content and direction of these conversations...they choose the focus and the elements that they wish to share. I shake hands, offer coffee and cookies, and step back to allow the student to step up.
          But much to surprise, at the appointed hour not only did my grade 11 saunter through the door, but he was followed by both parents and the cutest, bubbliest, dressed in frills, little girl, who as I soon to discover was his sister. What immediately struck me how different my "sullen" student was with this little girl in tow. He proudly showed her where he sat, pointed out a poster on the wall that he'd comlpeted, and led he over to a computer to show her his blog. It was pretty clear that he doted on this little girl. The enormous grin on his face while she admired his work was evidence of that. Her presence transformed him. And it gave me an "in", a context, a connection.
          The next morning in class, this same grade 11 boy reverted back to his typically quiet, sullen self. Until I began to ask him questions about his little sister, at which point a small, shy grin replaced his usually stone-faced expression. That connection opened to door to a relationship that I was able to nurture and grow for the remainder of the semester. It established a level of trust. It gave me an "in", an opportunity to discover how best to support this student in his social, emotional and academic growth.
          So for me, as essential as it is for students to take ownership of their learning by leading their own conferences, the true rewards of such an evening come from the insight that I gain into my students' lives. Context. Connections. Community.
Adding pieces to the puzzle...

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