This week was obviously a special one on account of the parent-teacher conferences. They are an important moment for the entire community even if at times they feel like competitive chess matches—with limited time to think and each player frantically hitting their clock to stay within the time constraints.
Organizing the meetings would make for a pretty good math word problem for our Elementary students: If there are 54 students in Middle School and one teacher needs to meet all of the parents over the course of a single day, what is the ideal length for each meeting (making sure to give the teacher breaks for lunch and to catch their breath during the day)? 15 minutes seems reasonable, right? That would mean starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at 9:15 p.m. without a single break. 10 minutes, so? It’s better but would still entail nine hours of work without a break. I admit to blushing when I announced 8-minute conferences for each of our (17) Middle School teachers—an unconventional timeframe that everyone did their best to respect (but we all know not to ask for the impossible!)
The question of timing was followed by the question of format—would the conferences be in person or on Zoom? At The École, our instinctive response was that we wanted to meet parents in real life—to show you your child’s notebooks and to allow you to see for yourselves the reality of your child’s classroom life and work. It was also the expression of a tacit desire to return to the before times, to the way things were before back-to-back Zooms, before social distancing, and before COVID. Except that it turned out that it was not as widely shared a sentiment as we had anticipated. Maybe the before times of coming into school for a 15-minute conference (the ideal length of a Maternelle and Elementary PTC) have become past times now that technology offers a satisfactory alternative. On Tuesday morning, I finished the very last minutes of the (entirely online) Harvard Graduate School of Education course I’ve been taking this past year. The closing remarks were dedicated to the consequences of COVID for schools and one of the heads whose remarkable career we’ve been studying declared that we would never return to parent-teacher conferences without Zoom. I found myself blushing again listening to him at the exact moment that our parents were scaling the (many) stairs of the Elementary & Middle School Building.
It is therefore highly likely that we will offer a hybrid format for our future parent-teacher conferences. We will continue to encourage parents to come and see us in person whenever possible but I think we will also offer a Zoom option for those who cannot make it in person. We are already experimenting with the hybrid option for one Grade level as one of the class teachers was unfortunately unavailable this week. As we had to reschedule at the last minute on a different day we offered the choice of Zoom or in-person. The verdict so far is 14 on Zoom, 14 in-person, and 2 parents who are still on the fence!
I hope that, despite the prevarications and the not-always-judicious decisions made by the school leadership, parents were able to (re)discover our talented teachers, see how attentive and dedicated they are to our students’ progress, and to making sure every child thrives at school. I consider myself exceptionally lucky because I get to see it every day in person, and that is what I really wanted to show you this week!