Sunday, June 11, 2006

Nearly the end of semester: reports and progress meetings

I am so glad the Queen of England and Australia is having a birthday this weekend because that means I get an extra day to write my reports. Oh, what’s that, she already had her birthday… in April? Oh well, never mind. I like the day off school any way so I can catch up on school work. Life is weird. At this time of the year there are queues of students at the Reception desk five deep before school, at recess and lunch and even after school. I wonder what’s going on, aloud. The word comes back: students handing in late work before the deadline. You see, everyone knows reports are being written this weekend. And last Wednesday and this Wednesday there are progress reports for students, parents and teachers. We talk (and listen) for hours from 2.00 pm till 8.30 pm. This year the students are leading the interviews as they are about the progress the student is making after all. They have been encouraged to bring samples of work, both ones they are proud of and ones they now know how they could have been improved. The students are aware of the process of the meeting: they introduce their parents to their teacher and explain what they have been learning about, what they have enjoyed and what they have not enjoyed. It puts the ball clearly in the students’ court. They speak about what they have learnt and what they feel they need more help in. Sometimes they leave out something I thought was really good so I can butt in and remind them, I can prompt them if they have forgotten something, I can add my point of view when the student has said what she wants. It’s interesting that you get to hear what the quiet students think, and the students often tell you and their parents, things about their own behaviour and how it could be improved that I would have had to bring up with the old way of doing Parent Teacher Interviews. The whole tenor of the meetings is more cooperative rather than adversarial, although there are still some parents who want to be that. Even the name change to ‘progress meetings’ is significant. Of course this way of doing things may well be common elsewhere, but it is a change of culture, a change that reflects the different role of the teacher, the teacher as facilitator of the student’s learning, rather than the teacher as fount of all knowledge. Another change is where the teacher chooses to sit relative to the parents and student. The tables and chairs that are set up in the hall have the teacher’s chair on one side of the table and the ‘visitors’ are on the other side of the table, almost suggesting the older style of relationships. I will be experimenting with placing my chair without the barrier of the table between me and the other members of the progress meeting. It takes time to change old habits and though other teachers in my school have been doing this, I haven’t yet tried it. But I will this coming Wednesday night. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. In my school last year, we held 3 way interviews (as you've described in your post) for the first time where the students took charge of the whole process. It was definitely a shift in "how things are done" and it was interesting to be out of the spotlight. Of course, some parents see it as a cop-out - "teachers trying to do less work - again!" but watching a quiet child swell up with pride when showing something they've worked hard to their parents or conversely, a child whose work ethic has been on the slack side try to explain his way out the situation shows the power of this format. Unfortunately, we aren't doing them this year as Nelson's new common reporting format has meant that we have to spend that time explaining that to parents and something had to give in our workload. It will be back on the agenda next year for sure. You are right, some schools and teachers have been doing it this way for a number of years - pity they aren't blogging about it. Luckily, you will be - I will be reading with interest.

  2. This is extremely interesting -- These interviews take place every year, and all of the parents come in?

    I would love to hold a student-led interview with parents two or three times during a school year, How do you get all of the parents to attend?

    When we have voluntary parent-teacher conferences twice a year in my schoool district here in the States, my conferences rarely top six or seven percent of my student load. Those who teach students who are designated super-duper learners (from a particular socio-economic level and neighborhood of our city) the conference rate is closer to 75 or 80 percent, but the focus there is on how the teacher is short-changing the student.

    How does your system work this lovely idea?

  3. Hi Graycie,
    The system works like this: there are 6 parent teacher meetings a year in three lots. Mid semester one, end of semester one and mid semester two. The parents have a choice of times to come. The teachers can request a meeting in a letter that is sent home and each teacher has approx 30 time slots in each of the meetings (10 mins each) I try to see different parents at each interview so that I cover most of my students over the year. Some parents can't come so I ring these (if necessary). Because I teach mostly English just about every one of my time slots is filled each time. Parents seem to be most interested in English and Maths I find. In my current school I think the majority of parents come although they wouldn't all see each teacher. Up until the government mandated reports we didn't have comments on our reports so if the parents wanted to know how their child was doing they pretty much had to see the teacher face to face. Maybe that's the secret.

  4. What a fantastic idea! Graham Wegner raised the issue of getting parents to come, but that's an issue for standard P-T interviews anyway. I wouldn't let such an obstacle stand as a valid reason NOT to take on this format. I've always thought it would be good to put some more accountability on the students, and this sounds brilliant. Now, how does a little pleb like me introduce the notion to the powers that be at my school?

  5. Anonymous5:03 pm

    Nat. I am a colleague of Jo's and I offer my thoughts. I first picked up on Student Led reporting from a school in Canberra and a PEEL contact in Melbourne. Both spent time working with their students on what to say, how to say it and were overwhelmed by the responses from both parents and students. You need to prepare your students, try it, video it (as the PEEL teacher did)gather comments from students and parents and then present this to staff at your school for their comments. Another important structural feature is to either remove the teacher tables from the interview area or use them behind you so that the chairs are facing each other, as in a normal conversation situation. Get rid of the 'power' barriers and focus on student presentation. I also give my studenst a checklist of what to say, which I keep at the ready should the conversation start to dwindle.

    Good Luck!!

  6. Fascinating ideas here to carry over into my own parent/teacher meetings next year :-)