I've been teaching in secondary education for 25 years. Last week, for the very first time, I got to sit across the other side of the desk and hear about my own daughter's progress after her first term, as a Year 9, at school. It was the rapid, 5 minutes with each teacher, speed-dating style of interview that I have participated in as a teacher since I started teaching. It was also at the school where I teach.
The interviews went well and were largely very positive. However, I have reflected on these for some time since and asked myself what was I looking for as a parent from these interviews and was this different to what I did as a teacher? I've decided to put down a few ideas, maybe as much to remind myself next time I do my next round of interviews but hopefully someone else might find something useful in here too.
What I looked for:
The first and most immediate thing I looked for was a connection with my daughter. Does the teacher know, acknowledge and have a positive bond with her. We are relational creatures and a positive student-teacher relationship is critical for student success. A teacher that is able to communicate that they care about a student, that they believe in them as an individual and connects with them as a learner has already unlocked one of the key doors for the student to experience success. This came through clearly at some interviews and I know this translates in the classroom. On the night this was demonstrated by teachers who greeted her, joked with her and engaged her in the conversations about her learning. Bizarrely, in secondary schools, we still persist with a teacher directed approach to interviews where parents come along to be told how their son or daughter is doing. The student, if they attend, rarely actively participates in these meetings. As a parent I have now experienced the stark contrast of these style of meetings (the type I've done for 25 years) to the 3-way conferences I have had through the primary system to this point with my own kids. These 3-way conferences are so rich and my kids have done amazing work at sharing their learning journeys and articulating the next steps in their learning. To now see one of my children excluded somewhat from this process highlighted to me how the traditional secondary interview is an inferior model. However, if we work in schools where this current model exists as teachers we should at least acknowledge and include the student in the conversations about their own learning. This shows as teachers we care about them and their progress - after all, it's them we are there for.
This leads to the second key thing I looked for, an acknowledgement that the learning was a 3-way partnership between teacher-student-parent. These days we surely recognise that learning is occurring all the time in a range of different ways. Learning is not the exclusive domain of schools and is not a transmission model from expert teacher to student. I also believe that in secondary schools we've been traditionally terrible at acknowledging that parents could have any useful role in helping their child learn, instead seeing it often as meddling or interfering. How wrong is that? It was great to hear, as parents, how we could be helpful in supporting the learning that was occurring at school (beyond simply checking homework was completed). I applaud the teachers that are readily making this more explicit and available to parents. I know this takes time but the more we start to acknowledge the connectedness between the school, student and home the better off the learning will be for students.
The third key thing I looked for was an understanding and ability to communicate three cornerstone questions for learning - what are the goals my daughter is aiming for? Where is she currently at? What are the next steps she needs to take towards helping her achieve her goals? In five minutes, this is a tough ask. Yet I was impressed again that teachers were often able to condense this down and provide some insight into her learning journey within the subject. Acknowledgement of strengths, acknowledgement of efforts made and careful crafted advice for next steps made for useful and productive interviews.
At the end of the day though, after finally experiencing the style of interview I been conducting myself for 25 years I think this method of rapid 5 minute interviews in secondary schools has simply got to change. The learner needs to be brought more to the fore, their voice heard and they need to be able to answer their own questions about goals, progress and next steps. The partnership between school and home needs to be better acknowledged in the secondary system and better communication between school and home developed. While there is value in the face-to-face meeting, a greater level of fluidity is needed when discussing student progress as restricting this to two or three reporting events over the year is starting to look more and more archaic.