Parent Teacher Interviews: Time for a Make-Over?

By my calculations, I’ve attended about 104 parent teacher interviews which ended Thursday as my youngest of 4 children graduates from high school this year. While I’m sure I missed the odd one, my wife and I attended all of these meetings. I wondered if this is still a valued experience or if things need to change.

I will admit that we may not be the typical parents. First of all, our kids were generally very good students and never struggled in school or caused any problems. Secondly, as teachers, we had a better understanding of the classroom than many parents. Along with that, we trusted teachers and while we didn’t agree with all of their practices, we didn’t feel the need to check up on them or question their practices. A fifteen-minute interview isn’t the time or place to discuss lecture versus project based learning. Finally, we had good relationships with our kids and they let us know when they were excited, bored or frustrated with school. We attended these interviews mostly to avoid being seen as disinterested parents.

As I said, I’m not suggesting this is the typical parent profile. Yet in the same way we work to differentiate learning for students, I wonder if it’s time to differentiate for parents. My own kids never had their teachers share online. My wife has had a class blog for 5 years and has recently begun to use See-Saw to share and post student learning and portfolios. I know many teachers are loving Fresh Grade, another powerful tool for assessment and sharing. These tools, when used effectively can replace the time typically spent at parent teacher interviews.

The last few years, my youngest has been doing student led conferences instead of the traditional interview. While certainly putting more onus on the student to share learning, for the reasons I stated above, these are not very insightful or useful sessions for us as parents. Not to say they might be for others, but again, does every parent need to participate? Even if we think about disengaged parents, is this the best way to engage them? Does 15 minutes make a difference?

I’m not suggesting we get rid of parent-teacher interviews but I am asking if scheduling 15 or 20 minutes for all parents and students is the best use of our time and theirs. This is a classic case of equality over equity. As well it may be a TTWWADT (that’s the way we’ve always done things) It might be argued that 30-60 minutes is not a lot to ask of parents or teachers to meet over a year. I agree. But doing it just for the sake of checking a name off the list speaks more about our need to be compliant and feed our bureaucratic desires that to foster effective communication. I’d be curious to hear from you. As a parent or teacher, what is valuable to you? What actually makes a difference in connecting parents to the child’s learning?

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