It was a surprising highlight of our first year at Ambleside. Our first Parent-Teacher Conference was in October of 2011 after three of our upper elementary children had been with their teachers for approximately nine weeks.
The extent of my school interaction up to that point had been our admission interview and an afternoon picnic with school families. (Any of you remember those? A lovely, Florida-August-hot tradition which I’m so glad we have allowed to become sweet, sweaty memories!) During our inaugural Parent-Teacher Conference, we had our first deep taste of the work truly happening in the classroom: these teachers knew the beautiful strengths in our Dear Ones and had developed strategies to grow them past their personal weaknesses. No one had ever known our children like this, so deeply, individually, and intentionally. While the overt goal appeared to be the education of their minds, we found it was the education of their character that has been the true schooling.
Ambleside makes the Parent/School Partnership a priority. The school communicated expectations early and clearly and I appreciated their desire to partner with our family to reach the goals we valued. Through our ten years within this community, I have come to recognize that just as I want to hold those teaching my students accountable to the standard they have set for themselves, they have the right to ask the same from me as a parent. When we sign the Parent Commitment document each year, Mark and I are saying we are committed to maintaining a good partnership with the teachers and the community. We have clearly agreed to not just the “letter of the law” in fulfilling those numerated line items in the commitment, but also the spirit of joining together to accomplish the goals we have for our young people.
Parent-Teacher Conferences reveal some of the delightful nuances in this partnership between our families and the classroom teachers. Every conference interaction Mark and I have had with our four children over the past 10 years has been encouraging in the moment as well as “in the long haul.” In telling us how my child’s strengths impact both her work and her peers, teachers have given us a glimpse into the growth of this whole person who leaves our home each day. The teachers know my child. The real, fabulous, frustrating, brilliant and unique child I love.
Yet I also want to know any areas of weakness that will get in the way of my Dear One becoming a healthy, productive adult. These tender moments have also been beautiful as teachers share areas where my student needs growth along with the methods they are using in the classroom to encourage that growth.
Through different opportunities on campus, I’ve learned that Charlotte Mason clearly outlined how weakness is seen in each of us, and how it is best guided. When confronted with poor choices in a young person, an adult may ask himself, Is this behavior a result of the child not knowing? (The loving response would then be to inform the student of the correct action.) If a teacher or parent knows clear instruction regarding the behavior has been given and understood, they can rightly assume the poor choice is coming from normal human weakness: we know what we ought to do, but do not have the strength to do it without guidance from outside of ourselves. (The loving response is to tighten the boundaries to develop the inward desire and ability to do as the student knows he ought.) In some circumstances, students may operate from a place of rebellion. It’s interesting in parenting how often it feels like my child is acting from intentional rebellion but Charlotte Mason advises this should be considered rare. Inability to do what one knows he ought creates an inner discord that we humans often try to compensate for by acting cavalier instead of needy, thus appearing as if we have chosen defiance. The majority of training occurs in that “middle area” of needing encouragement, support, and guidance to do right.
In the partnership we have between parent and teacher, it is an act of love for the teacher to share areas of weakness in my son or daughter and the methods they are employing in the classroom to encourage inner stamina to make the right choices. It is an incredible blessing to pull alongside my child’s teacher, hold my child accountable and grow them into the people they are meant to be. It’s been enlightening to have teachers note areas where growth is needed and recognize there are similar things we can do at home to work on my child’s character development. If having incomplete assignments at school has become a habit, how can we strengthen finishing tasks in a timely manner at home? If attention or work ethic or integrity are areas that need growth, can I be looking for ways to encourage internal motivation to work carefully, complete tasks, and be truthful? If my child struggles with appropriate, joyful social engagement with peers, what would it look like to have conversations over shared meals with the expectation that my child participate? Am I willing to build careful work habits and send my child back to complete a chore if the work was hurriedly done? The insights shared at our conferences may just be the perspectives we have needed to set the tone for some course corrections in our home.
Our school also values parent-teacher conferences as an opportunity for parents to bring concerns to the teacher. It’s been our experience as parents that it is less about IF we have concerns than it is about WHEN. We have not had one school year where we did not have something come up which required clarification from the administration or our classroom teacher. Mark and I have also learned, it’s better to discuss something when Mama here has a lifted eyebrow than allow issues to grow until she has clenched fists. It’s been said that wisdom keeps short accounts and does not allow grievances to become big. It’s also been our experience that our administration enters into those conversations in helpful ways.
I trust you took the time to fulfill your commitment to your child, her teacher, and our community by fully engaging in the information you received at the conferences this semester. We have been given a sweet opportunity to once again breathe in the good and beautiful ideals that drew us to Ambleside, and look forward to the promised growth this year will bring both in students and adults alike.
“Certainly, it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher (or parent) engaged in this manner of education.”