Start the Year Right

Starting The School Year On The Right Foot

A rewarding way to begin the school year starts with a conference with three people: student, parent and advisor. An advisor means the school has an advisory program or students are with an elementary teacher most of the day.

The conference is best scheduled before the formal school start date, or during the first week of school. Many of the conferences will be in the evening to fit parent work schedules.

At the conference (scheduled by the advisor) parent, student and advisor become acquainted and establish communication means, such as a home or work phone number or email.

The personal learning plan (PLP) starts with student interests and favorite subjects, then areas where the student or parent suggest improvement. The advisor notes the two—interests and improvements—for later reference. The result, different for each student, becomes a personal learning plan.

The conference meeting should be relaxed and comfortable, for instance, coffee, a cookie and a comfortable chair, not a kindergarten chair for the adults. The conference creates an easy conversation with the parent who knows their child best and is recognized as such.

The most important result is a plan for the student’s success. It helps if the school program allows flexibility and choices as I wrote in School Transformation. Goals, projects and classes become the path to success.

The final step schedules periodic times for the advisor to meet with the student for progress and adjusting for problems. The parent and advisor set a date for the next conference to review progress. The school ideally has set one or two calendar dates midyear and an end-of-year time for conferences.

Subsequent conferences should be student-managed as in, “ Mom and Dad, here are the goals we set and what I worked on. And here is how it went.” Role-playing the conference with the advisor ahead of time helps the student with the upcoming conference. The conference discussion should emphasize accomplishments.

The initial and later conferences help the student understand accountability. The conference recognizes the importance of the parent and the means of two-way communication. The partnership aims for student management of their schooling and the importance of responsibility.

The beginning of the year conference validates school-parent partnerships with the student’s progress at the center as it should be.

Wayne B Jennings, retired teacher, principal and author of School Transformation.