This discussion happens to parallel two intense weeks at my school: preparing for
Spring Family Weekend. The schedule for the weekend, as is typical at schools with boarding programs, is packed.
Families will attend classes on Friday morning. We will have an all-school
house-meeting (a weekly time for announcements and presentations) before lunch.
After lunch, we will have a performing arts show and then a number of parent
meetings, open sports activities, and conferences. Conferences continue after
dinner and into the next morning. Our Head of School will give a talk and facilitate
Saturday afternoon, there will be more games as well as a horse show. Saturday
evening, the Parents’ Association is sponsoring a dinner-dance fundraiser (their
idea, a “tradition” begun a year ago).
The spring meeting for middle school parents varies greatly year to year. This year, as I looked at how to most productively spend the half-hour we have with them, I’ve decided to facilitate small-group discussions looking back over the year.
By design, we also just had a middle school faculty retreat on Friday, taking the afternoon to give an in-depth look at some issues that are important to us: assessment, curriculum,
advisory, technology, and the concept of an exit portfolio and/or exhibition.
Some might ask why did we do this before the parent weekend? The answer is simple: So that our ears would be fine-tuned for comments that could inform our next steps. My initial list of questions for my small-group discussion with parents is deliberately very general. Considering all aspects of our program, I will ask them
1. What aspects of your daughter’s experience have been successful this year?
2. What suggestions would you have for improving our program?
3. What level and types of communication and feedback have been and would be
most helpful in partnering with us to track your daughter’s progress?
I will readily concede to knots in my stomach as we enter this experience—like
many teachers, I am something of a perfectionist even though I realize perfection is pretty
much impossible. (After all, one person’s “perfection” is another person’s “Are you
kidding?!”) But if we listen to and embrace this input from people who care about
the school and their children, my colleagues and I have the opportunity to improve
the program in far more meaningful ways than we could otherwise manage.
Bill Ivey teaches 7th grade Humanities, French, and music at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, an all-girls private boarding school in Western Massachusetts.
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