Parent-Teacher Conferences, A Time to Celebrate Strengths

It is parent-teacher conference time and you arranged your schedule three months in advance to attend. If you are like most parents, you feel a certain amount of anxiety around this event. You attend hoping there won't be any surprises and that you won't discover that your child is experiencing any difficulties. Unfortunately, most parent-teacher conferences focus on grades rather than children, with the primary goal of addressing a child's area of weakness. Few parents go to conferences with the main goal of discovering where and how their children excel. I know, I was a teacher for ten years and the parents of the students who were getting A's in my class rarely attended conferences, or if they came, they usually breezed by my table, winked and whispered, "Keep up the good work."

Parent-teacher conferences become an occasion to look forward to when they are viewed as prime opportunities to talk with teachers about your child's strengths. What exactly are strengths? Strength are the activities that energize and excite your child when he is doing them. This is as opposed to his weaknesses, the activities that leave him feeling depleted. There are three kinds of strengths: Activity Strengths (the things you do that energize you), Relationship Strength (the things you do with and for others that make you feel energized and proud) and Learning Strengths (the ways that learning makes the most sense to you). All of these strengths are discoverable land your child can develop them to find success.

The conversation about changing our minds, our schools, and our nation to a paradigm that focuses on strengths begins with parents and teachers. Parents, teachers, and students can begin to form a strength alliance between the home and the school. If you are a parent and use this book at home, share it with your school. Likewise, if you are a teacher and practice these exercises and philosophies with your students, waste no time in sharing them with your students' parents. Here are some exercises to help advance the strength alliance.

* Draft a one-page letter to your child's teacher if you are a parent, to a child's parent if you are a teacher, or to both your teacher and your parent if you are a student. In the letter, describe the Learning Strengths of the child in question in as much detail as you can. Include how he -- or you, if you're the student -- likes to learn, what things he enjoys doing most, what type of environment works best for him, and what he finds difficult. Share this letter with the person for whom you wrote it. If you are a parent, bring the letter to parent-teacher conferences.
* Read the following case study and answer the accompanying questions.

Yolanda's Day in School: Yolanda is a focused student. She takes everything she does in class very seriously and listens very well to the teacher. She does not like to participate in group activities, and she does not raise her hand much or contribute to class discussions unless the teacher calls on her. Although she completes all her assignments, sometimes her work is not correct. At recess, Yolanda likes to sit in the shade and read. She has a few friends that sit with her, but she does not like to join in the large group activities on the playground.

Given what you know about Learning Strengths, create a learning profile of Yolanda. Ask a teacher or another parent to do the same, and then compare your decisions and insights.

The above is adapted from the book Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Author's Bio: 

Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, is an educator and public speaker who has worked in public and independent schools as a teacher and administrator for twenty-five years. She is currently the international leader of the Strengths Movement in K-12 schools. She holds a B.S. in communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. in English from Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English, and an M.Ed. in school administration from Harvard University.

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