Robert Winner


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Parent teacher conferences and feedback.

I just finshed watching the talk by Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback. I agree that teachers need real feedback. However, after the talk I sat and reflected on a real life parent teacher conference and the experience of last year sitting on a committee to re-align teachers evaluations.

So there are two areas for debate:

1) Is the parent / teacher conference designed for feedback either way?

2) Are teachers evaluations designed for feedback?

Please say if you are a teacher or even both teacher and parent.

How would you change the present practice of either or both?

  • May 18 2013: feedback not for any judgement but for improving,helping teachers to recognize their teachings clearly.Teachers should be brave to accept any feedback about our teachings,and goverment,leaders should be wise to deal with those feedback but just focus on judgement's measurement issue.Because teachers needed to keep learning,growing,moving on...
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      May 14 2013: Lee, I understand the structue ... the question is about fedback / effectivness of the conferences and/or teachers evals.

      Thanks. Bob.
  • May 11 2013: I am hampered by an illness, so please bear with me.

    When I was in school, the only time one of my parents was seen
    by my teacher, was when my parent was asked for disciplinary help.
    Usually the principal or the superintendent would contact the parent,
    and in such cases the teacher would advise the parent of the problem.
    That was when corporal punishments were allowed, and spankings
    got the desired results.

    Report cards were issued every 6 weeks. Parents rewarded their
    children for good grades and punished them for bad ones.

    Homework was non-existent as most children had chores at home.
    My how things have changed.

    I am not a teacher, only a grandparent and a great grandparent.
    you ask -- How would you change the present practice of either or both?
    By elimination.
  • May 10 2013: Hi Robert,
    I'd like to share my experiences as a parent.

    My kids are 5 and 6, so they are just beginning that long educational journey! Both of them started out 'differently' than their peers (we raise them bilingually, which could or could not be responsible for the fact that they both had delayed speech). As a result, we've attended more parent-teacher conferences than most on their age groups.

    In my experience, there seem to be three kinds of parent-teacher conferences:

    1) a bi-annual formal meeting, where things like social behavior, aptitude, development, and test results are discussed. It's essentially the "How is my kid doing, compared to the other thousand kids in this country" conference, which I personally do not attach much value to.
    It is not the intention that parents give any kind of feedback during these - it is a 'read only' type of conference.

    2) extra semi-formal meetings to discuss unique circumstances concerning things like social behavior or development delay. In our experience, due to the language thing, we went to about one of these a month.
    Here, there is more room for feedback, especially since the subject matter concerns our kids in particular, and there is no reference to statistics anymore.

    3) informal 'talks' about recent or upcoming circumstances surrounding behavior or development.
    I prefer these above all others - they take place on the playground, usually after school, when both the teacher and I are relaxed and a genuine conversation can take place.
    The only concern during these talks is my child, so there is plenty of room for feedback and communication.

    My conclusion as a parent? The more informal, the better!
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    May 10 2013: robert, can you write this so you get to the point quicker? You have the beginnings of a great conversation here.
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    May 10 2013: Part 2:

    Outside the formal evaluation process, in my district district administrators had the right to enter any classroom at any time. I, and my classroom, have been observed without notice by my principal, other administrators, principals from other schools, teachers from my school and from other schools, as well as oodles of parents. Parent visits are typically when they are trying to decide which school to send their kids to. I might have been watched by eighty parents every spring, coming through in group tours..

    While the observer may give feedback, the teacher contract when I was in the classroom stipulated, I think, that visits from which data would be collected for the formal evaluation had to be with notice.

    The situation is entirely different if you are a teacher who has been flagged as struggling. I am not sure what the rules are governing this case, but these teachers are observed with feedback much more often and may have a mentor teacher assigned as well with some sort of specific agreement about process and evaluation of growth.

    The big controversy in teacher evaluation is the role of standardized test scores. In most districts, I believe, as Dr. Canada described, that the standardized tests are annual, in the Spring, with results available only in late summer or early fall. So the timing for taking that into account doesn't work for a school calendar year evaluation. Further, it is difficult to measure growth from such a measure, particularly as any sort of year-over-year analysis for individual students from those records would also include the summer loss period Dr. Canada refered to. Further, the tests are not designed to capture the various critical dimensions of a student's growth.

    Some schools have adopted frequent standardized testing- sometimes three times annually. In my experience, these frequent tests are difficult to use in evaluation of student growth, because they tend not to be closely related to the school's actual curriculum
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    May 10 2013: I have been both parent and teacher and see this done very differently in different places.

    Grade school conferences ran about twenty minutes and were focused on the student's work. The teacher provided her observations, with artifacts of student work as evidence. The teacher would inquire about what the parent was seeing at home in relation to school work and attitudes toward school and life. The focus was the student, not the teacher, but if a parent felt she was seeing signs at home of classroom issues, that discussion would be included.

    In secondary school in public school, a teacher teaches 180 kids, typically, in a large urban district. If there are general conferences, they are extremely short and fully focused on the student. If parents need a longer conference, they make an appointment with the teacher to discuss whatever the issues are. I notice that in private school the "teacher conference" may be with the student's advisor rather than with any teacher. In my conference with my son's 9th grade advisors, they used the time only to listen to parents and did not use the time to give academic feedback on my son.

    Formal teacher evaluations are of two types. There are formal evaluations by the principal or other designated administrator and there are formal student evaluations of teacher.

    In my district a teacher typically was observed twice by the evaluating administrator for at least a half hour each time. There was also a meeting in which the teacher did a presentation for the administrator's inspection of large amounts of student work, selected by the teacher to illustrate growth. I believe we were to present work showing the growth trajectory for three students who represented different levels of performance- a student who faced serious learning challenges, an average student, and a student whose performance and growth were striking. I'd show student projects and portfolios and have my gradebook.

    Teachers would get feedback orally and in writing.