Notes from Ed

(reprinted and modified from earlier newsletters)

Student-Led Conferences begin on February 10th, and I’m reminded of the wonderful experiences I had as a parent at these events.  I attended 11 of them, four with my daughter Willa, who attended Merriam beginning in third grade, and seven with my younger daughter Jessa, who spent all of her elementary years at Merriam School.  Though Willa’s first SLC was back in 1996, I still remember it as if it was yesterday.  I’ve often thought about what made those conferences so memorable.

One of the highlights was watching my children be active participants in their learning.  When I was in elementary school, learning was a somewhat passive experience.  It happened to me; I was like a sponge absorbing as much as I could.  But sponges aren’t very actively involved in the world around them.  As my daughters led me through the conferences, they displayed a tremendous sense of ownership of their learning.  “Here’s something I learned from this project in school, Dad, and it’s really cool.  Here’s what I did.  And here’s why it was so cool…..”

It was also neat to see the variety of ways that they showed me what they were learning.  We played math games together.  We took a tour of the classroom and observed tide pool creatures.  We looked together at math assessments.  Written pieces were read aloud to me, and artwork was shared.  Complicated projects with complex rubrics were shown to me.  And we went to interactive websites on the computer.  All of these were wonderful vehicles for demonstrating what they were learning.

And then there was the organization.  They took such pride in pulling out the agendas for the meetings, and checking off each item from the list as we got to it.  They were running the show and it was a thrill to have their parents be the audience. 

Were their mistakes?  Of course.  Did they forget some of the material that they knew when they first began to prepare for the conferences?  Certainly.  Was that OK?   Absolutely.  We encouraged them and complimented them, and asked gentle, helpful questions when it seemed appropriate.  But this was their time to shine and to self-reflect.  And making mistakes and having challenges in one’s learning is all part of the process.

Though I was sometimes pressed for time, I always wrote a note to the girls, for them to save in their portfolios.  I wanted them to know how impressed I was with every aspect of their learning.  It wasn’t just the academic growth (which was impressive), but seeing and hearing about the teamwork skills and the social skills and the things that they began to take an interest in and care about over time – that was special.  And of course they both were becoming more and more comfortable expressing themselves.  When we’ve had moments in recent years to peek back at the portfolios, both girls smiled (just as they did years ago) when they read the words of appreciation and acknowledgment from their parents.  It was definitely worth taking those few extra minutes to write….

When speaking with prospective kindergarten parents I always mention that these conferences were one my biggest highlights as a Merriam School parent.   Have a wonderful time celebrating your children at the student-led conferences this year!