Dear Harbor Families,
For years, I was in the teacher’s seat during parent teacher conferences. I spent hours preparing thoughts and materials to be able to thoughtfully represent and clearly articulate each child’s strengths and growth areas. When conference days finally arrived, I would wake up nervous. As I worked through the marathon of conversations, I settled into the routines of sharing student work, describing children’s academic and social/emotional learning, and coordinating with parents how we might better align home and school. And at the end of the day, I would collapse into bed, with a feeling of accomplishment that I had led an essential conversation about the students I cared so much about.
Two years ago, I sat in the parent seat for the very first time. And though I was excited to learn about what the teacher would say about my daughter, I was nervous. What would I learn about who my daughter was, that I didn’t know already? What would it mean about me, or Bill and me, or our skills at parenting? What would the teacher be thinking about our family and her home experience? And though we heard all kinds of wonderful things about her that day, I - being human - walked away thinking mostly about that one or two “areas of growth” - which in my parent mind, translated to a word that is never to be uttered in the halls of a child-friendly, developmentally sound school - “weakness”. (No! I couldn’t have just written that!)
As an educator, I believe with a passion that all students progress on their own path of learning, which looks - and should look - very different from the next child, and that child development is not a straight path. I believe that all people have a myriad of strengths and areas of growth, and that is a beautiful thing. I believe in the power of parent-teacher collaboration in supporting individual growth, and that communication through conferencing is essential. So what was I doing worrying about Emily’s “growth areas” in such a personal way? Even with my training, beliefs, and classroom experience, my ego got the best of me.
A forewarning - this letter is about to get really personal…
Throughout that first year of preschool, Emily went through a lot. In December and January, she was diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease that challenged all of us as a family to the core. It meant that she was out of school for a while, and then when she returned, she would go for just a few hours at a time as her strength allowed - eventually working her way back to full days. Her three year old body was weak and fatigued, and she was on intense medication which caused changes in her body and her mood. It was intense.
Suddenly, our relationship with Emily’s teacher was not the least bit formal. We were in constant communication about her day to day progress, and over time talked less regularly but always with a certain familiarity. When we talked, her “areas of growth” were exactly that- and not at all weaknesses in disguise. Her teacher was our partner, in the truest sense of the word.
Fast forward almost two years, and Emily is a happy junior kindergartener at The Harbor School, living the life of a typical four year old (with some help from medication). Bill and I have our parent teacher conference with Jamie Danielson and Betsy Seery on Friday afternoon, and I’m ready and eager to hear all they have to say - about both her strengths and her growth areas. We’ll add our thoughts and insights to this important conversation, and we’ll all walk away with a better understanding of how to best encourage and support her throughout her developmental path.
On that note, here’s to further developing ease in your conversations and relationships with your child’s teachers. After all, we are all in this together and have a common and incredibly important goal of supporting our children’s growth and learning.
I wish you all a productive and meaningful parent teacher conference this week.
Head of School
The Harbor School