The generalized expectations of academic achievement can be extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing for parents. In our technology-fragmented lives, parent-teacher conferences are therefore a wonderful time to focus on our children.
As a parent, I’ve often been intrigued by the many levels of communication that occur during these brief and often poignant meetings. The time spent in parent-teacher conferences allows us to learn who our children really are, how they learn in classroom environments, and how they are cultivating and curating their lives as individuals.
Valuing the Outsider’s Perspective
Parent-teacher conferences are one of the most important opportunities for parents to hear someone else talk about their child. However, these meetings can sometimes stimulate mixed emotions. We hope to hear that everything is going well academically, socially, and emotionally -- but that’s not always the case.
As parents, how can we do a better job of stepping back and detaching ourselves -- our personal experiences, our biases, and our stigmas? It begins by admitting to ourselves that we can’t know everything. We must embrace the outsider’s perspective to have a fuller, richer view of our child.
Avoiding Cognitive Bias
While we listen to the manifest content of the teacher's information, we are simultaneously listening for latent messages. This "lens" is influenced by our personal histories and relationships with school and learning. It is helpful to be self-aware of these biases when entering the meeting, to avoid skewing or influencing important takeaways and recommendations by the teacher.
It is a normal cognitive bias to seek out (or cherry pick) validation of our perceptions and beliefs. In the context of parent-teacher conferences, such interpretations often include:
"Is my child keeping up with the other kids?”
"Does the teacher see the same behaviors at school that we do at home?”
“Is classroom behavior a reflection of me or my parenting?"
"Does the teacher appreciate my child's individuality and uniqueness?"
No matter what we may assume, these questions are not unique and we are not alone in our emotions. What’s important is that we force ourselves to listen to things that might challenge our assumptions.
While our love is unconditional, it is not until we detach ourselves from our experiences and set aside our stigmas, that we can embrace who our children are as learners and celebrate their strengths while supporting their weaknesses.
It is important to remember that each and every child develops at a different pace, and as a result will both excel and struggle at various points along the way . Realizing that our children’s learning style may be quite different from our own is one of the hardest realities for parents to accept.
Identifying that our own way is not always the "right" way is both challenging and enlightening. Our children have their own method of figuring things out. Knowing that they will all make the necessary achievements in their own time is a wonderful yet nerve wracking feeling.
As parents, it is our job to support them on their journey and bestow upon them the self-confidence necessary to face what life may lay down in their path.