Parents Enjoy a Fresh Start to the School Year
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
By Christina Mimms, SAIS
The start of any new school year can easily be labeled as hectic. Teachers are trying to get to know their students, while students anxiously work to learn their new schedules. Parents may be a little nervous. To ease those feelings and create a better start to the new year, The Fletcher School in Charlotte, NC, decided to change not only the first day, but also the first parent-teacher conferences, with great success.
At the conclusion of the 2015-16 school year, school leaders announced a new plan for its orientation/back-to-school day held prior to the first day of classes. In place of parents and students visiting classrooms and roaming the campus, the school held a technology “boot camp” for kindergarten through 5th grade students. To provide that “get to know you” opportunity for both students and parents, teachers filmed videos that were sent to families in the first week of August. The school provided the guidelines before teachers departed for the summer.
The videos, each about 5 to 10 minutes long, allowed teachers to introduce themselves and discuss expectations for their particular grade for the year. For example, middle school teachers crafted their video as a group, showing “a day in the life of a middle school student.”
“Parents got to watch them at their leisure and could also go back and watch them again,” said Maura Triebenbacher, 6th-12th division head at Fletcher. “Past back-to-school nights were difficult for families to manage – commutes, competing school schedules, and the busy time of year created distractions and conflicts."
As some of the school’s families have children in different schools or face a long commute to the campus, getting through weeknight traffic to attend a back-to-school program challenged many parents. So in addition to the videos, the school held parent-teacher conferences over the three days prior to the first academic day. In the past, the first conferences were held in mid-September. “Parents were able to talk to their teacher about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, and goals for the year,” said Patty Keith, K-5th division head. “We got great feedback – parents really enjoyed that initial contact with the teacher to begin that connection.”
Conferences lasted about 30 minutes. In the middle and upper schools, students were invited to the conference. They were able to talk about their hopes for the year as well as their concerns, which may differ from students in other schools, as Fletcher serves students with diagnosed learning disabilities. “Parents enjoyed having their child in there and it helped to give students autonomy in their learning,” Triebenbacher said. “It was a really great start for the year and the new format reduced anxiety for everyone.”
Additional conferences are held during the course of the school year at the end of each trimester. Fletcher plans to continue with the changed programs in the next school year, though they plan to send the video links a little bit sooner. Now that teachers have a template to follow, they expect to be able to complete the videos more quickly.
School leaders were pleased that the changes were well received. “We did not get a single negative comment,” Keith said. “Parents actually stopped me in the hallway to tell me it was awesome.”
Here are some sample videos from The Fletcher School: