When I coach students and parents about these conversations, I encourage them to try to keep the expectations to a minimum so they are easy to remember.
1. Have a goal.
The conversation needs to have a goal and that goal should be clear to everyone in the conversation. My advice is to make sure the student's work is the center of the conversation with the goals of identifying at least 2 areas where the student is producing solid educated work and 2 areas where the student is challenged top produce solid educated work. In addition, the conversation should end with a clear plan of action that empowers the student to address the areas in which he is being challenged.
2. Schedule the conversation.
An important conversation like this should be scheduled. This allows each person to prepare and feel more comfortable contributing. If possible, choose a venue conducive to sharing ideas and observations like a favorite restraunt or park. Avoid an environment that feels like an interrogation is taking place. You want the student to be open and honest, not threatened or scared.
3. Make a list.
In preparing for the conversation, have a short list of items you definitely want to hear or talk about. It could be a specific incident or class project. You might want to make sure extra-curricular activities are addressed. Have a list and if something is left unaddressed, use that as an area to ask about at the end.
4. Use examples.
I advise students to prepare at least one specific example of work they felt was a good example of their best work. I also advise students to prepare at least one example of work that needs more attention. Having specific examples to show and discuss is much better than trying to paint a picture of your work with vague refrences to assignments you did weeks ago and that your parents most likely do nto remember.
5. Have a plan.
Preparing ahead of time needs to include having a plan in advance of the meeting. Having an answer to, "What are you going to do to improve your work?" shows ownership and responsibility. Those are two areas in which parents are eager to see their children grow. "I don't know" is a bad answer. Have some idea of what you are going to do to improive and offer those ideas. You may need to adjust them as you move through the conversation, but at least have something from which you can move forward.
6. Clearly define help.
My wife has taught me many things over the years. One lesson I learned early on is that, "Help is what someone NEEDS you to do for them, not what you WANT to do." This lesson applies neatly to this conversation. There may be the temptation to jump in and solve the problems right away. However, that may not be what the student needs. Listen. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat what you heard and ask if you are correctly understanding. If you know how you can best support progress, you are more likley to support progress instead of getting in the way.
Do you have questions about how to engage with your students or children about their school work?
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