So How Did Parent / Teacher Conferences Go?
Many schools have just finished their first round of parent / teacher conferences – the best of times, the worst of times, depending on what is shared around the table. Parents, teachers, and students all come together in a partnership for the good of the child. We take a pause to reflect on achievements and set goals. Teachers are masters at presenting academic information about their students in ways that emphasize strengths. We seem able to articulate clearly which skills our students control. With the new awareness of “growth mindsets” most students and parents leave the conference table with a plan for academic growth and a belief they can meet their next goals.
From the Introvert: Susan’s Perspective
What I’ve been disturbed by are the times I’ve witnessed a child’s natural disposition being dishonored or even criticized in a conference. I remember a conference which I was a part of as the child’s reading specialist. The classroom teacher said, “She really needs to work on her class participation. She’s just so QUIET. She never SAYS anything.” I cringed for this child because I knew just how it felt to have that announced at the conference table. I’m sure she wanted to crawl under the table. I’ve had teachers say the same thing to me and about me. It implies that 1) there is something inherently wrong with being quiet 2) there is something inherently wrong with the child 3) having this trait means you have no value to the class. I can also attest that labeling a quiet disposition in this way almost guarantees that the child will become even quieter because they will now feel embarrassed and even more self-conscious.
Maybe the worst part of all is the fact that having an introverted, quiet disposition can be a great strength that should be leveraged as a classroom asset. Our quiet thinkers may be the class’s best listeners, writers, summarizers, editors, recorders, observers, and problem-solvers. We should be building up this asset, rather than making it a cause of shame.
What could this teacher have done differently? I think our introverted students need two things: 1) guidance in how to best leverage their disposition to benefit the learning of themselves and any group of which they are a part. 2) support in stretching themselves to develop skills that don’t come naturally. What if this teacher had made these points instead:
- Jane has outstanding listening skills.
- Jane is able to clearly express herself in writing.
- Jane is very observant of what’s happening in the classroom.
- Jane is a valuable group member because she is so respectful of everyone’s input.
- Our class could benefit from Jane’s thinking, so I’m going to help Jane stretch her skills.
- I’ll provide more partner and small-group opportunities where Jane has a specific role to fulfill, which will make it easier for her to speak
- I’ll give her time to think and jot down her thoughts before responding when I call on her.
- I’ll allow her some choice in how she shows her thinking, perhaps allowing her to sketchnote or outline class discussions to share with us later.
From the Extrovert: Johnny’s Perspective
Now let’s take a moment and think about the little extroverts in our classrooms. They may not exhibit behaviors that many teachers find to be positive qualities. Personally and professionally I have seen extroverted qualities be misinterpreted and mis-communicated to parents as areas that need change or growth.
“He talks too much.”
“He’s too loud.”
“He is always distracting others from doing their work.”
“He doesn’t stay in his seat/assigned area.”
I am not saying that children don’t have times when they are not working and they are distracting their peers, that absolutely happens, but with some of our extroverted learners, they NEED to interact in order to get the best work completed. They need socialization throughout their day, and it may not look like traditional classroom behavior, but we must tear down this rigid view of traditional classroom expectations.
Instead of making our extroverted students and their parents feel as though they are in the wrong, let’s empower them to know that these behaviors are not only acceptable but important and valued! How can we also leverage our extroverted students to become empowered and at the same time keep from distracting others in the room? First and foremost, understand that extroverts ARE social by nature, and need to talk things over in order to process. They also need that socialization to recharge their batteries when they are feeling drained. Instead of telling parents their child struggles to work quietly, explain how their socialization during the school day is leading to more opportunities for them to work in their best environment! Try some of these comments to help build a more positive awareness of extrovertedness in the classroom.
- Jack is a social student and he needs to use those social skills to be a leader in small groups.
- Jack is a role model for other students that are more reluctant to speak out in class.
- When Jack feels drained, he finds comfort in talking with others to find a solution.
- Jack is a collaborator, which is an important skill for 21st-century learners.
- Jack needs to stretch his ability to work alone when it is not appropriate for him to be social.
- I am going to work with Jack to help him understand how to find appropriate times for socialization while working.
- There are going to be more opportunities for small group projects when Jack can utilize his abilities as a more extroverted student.
We have some time before our next round of conferences. What if we began to view each child’s disposition as a potential benefit to our learning community? What would it look like for teachers to help children recognize their disposition as a strength? What might we tell parents the next time we’re gathered around the conference table?