Recipe for a Successful Parent & Teacher Conference

On Thursday, October 24th, teachers will meet with parents to discuss the progress of the children.  Though parents are welcome to meet with their child’s teacher at any point throughout the year, this six week check-in is an effective way to see how a child is doing in school.  The focus of these conferences are not only academic, they are also opportunities for parents to learn how their child is developing socially and emotionally. However, a component of each conference should also include the teacher hearing from the parent. Information from the home is important because there are layers of a child’s self that the parents see and understand that are different than what the teachers will see in the classroom.

In preparing for the Parent & Teacher Conference, there are several key items to keep in mind:

Be open to the teacher’s observations and feedback, even if what she shares seems surprising.  Remember that your child will most likely behave differently at school where he or she has to interact with a group of their peers for a large part of the day.

Understand what your child is ready for developmentally.  For example, some parents become frustrated their child isn’t reading by a certain age but don’t realize that before 2nd grade, some children are not developmentally ready to read.  The book Yardsticks by Chip Wood is an excellent resource for parents who want to learn the developmental milestones of children.  Click here to order the book online.

Come prepared with a few specific questions.  If possible, email the questions ahead of time to the teacher so your child’s teacher is prepared with an answer.

Share feedback.  If all is going well, let the teacher know what is working.  If there have been some bumps or if there is something not going well, share details about what you have noticed.

If there is something unclear, ask for clarification.  Teachers seek to be clear in the information they deliver to parents.  Asking clarifying questions benefits you and the teacher whose goal is to present a clear portrait of your child’s growth and development.

In the end, Parent & Teacher Conferences are ways teachers can strengthen the partnership between the school and home by providing important feedback on the progress of students.  By being open to that information, parents can gain a deeper and broader understanding of how their child learns as well as how he or she is developing as a person and thinker.

 

 


Success on a Saturday

 

This past Saturday was FWM’s Oktoberfest.  The day was spectacular and was perfect for a fall event in New England.  Though we are still calculating funds raised, it was clear that this was a very successful community experience.  These types of school functions help secure the bonds between families and weave the fabric that binds a community together.  I am very grateful to all the parents, teachers, and staff who volunteered their time throughout the Oktoberfest as well those who helped with set-up and pre-event preparations.  A very special THANK YOU to Alison Kistner, FWM’s Director of Advancement, who was the main architect of Oktoberfest and whose leadership made its execution so successful.


New Beginnings

Tuesday at sunset ends the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah.  This is one of holiest days for the Jewish people and has three main major points of significance:  1) Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Jewish New Year; 2) Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the creation of the universe and is connected to the time when God made a covenant with humans by creating Adam and Eve; 3) Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the 10 “Days of Awe” in which Jews focus their attentions on repentance and reflection leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is considered to be holiest day of the Jewish year.

Though I am not Jewish, I am struck by the timing of this very special and meaningful day.  Directly following the celebration of Rosh Hashanah is a period of reflection and repentance.  In essence, the Jewish people begin the new year by intentionally making amends for their sins and thinking about ways to be better people.  What a wonderful way to start anew!

For children, it is important we teach them to reflect on their deeds and take responsibility for their actions.  Making time for children to think about how their decisions impact others allows them to gain greater self-awareness and develop empathy for others.  As we settle into the rhythm of this new school year, let’s help our children start anew by having them take ownership for their mistakes.  By doing so, they  can begin to grow into the confident, self-assured, and courageous people they were meant to be.


A Masterpiece

Standing before Monet’s painting, The Magpie, I could almost feel the cold on my cheeks.  This masterpiece, along with other great works of art, capture the eternal and are timeless in their beauty.  When experiencing such creations developed by prodigious minds and spirits, there is a sense that one is in the presence of a truth – a truth that is as relevant today as it was in the past and as it will be in the future.

The Montessori methodology is one of these masterpieces, one of these truths.  In a September 2019 New York Times article by Jessica Lahey, the author outlines ways parents can help their child find success in school.  The ways mentioned are aligned with the fundamental principles developed by Maria Montessori over 100 years ago.  Below is the article which I also retweeted last week.  I hope you find it inspiring as well as reaffirming about the power and effectiveness of a Montessori education.

“Very young children are naturally driven to learn and explore. They are at the very beginning of their lifelong quest to understand and gain mastery of the world around them. As they reach out, fall and get back up again, they gain a heightened sense of mastery, competence and self-efficacy. Somewhere around kindergarten, however, parents and teachers begin to undermine this process by devaluing the process of learning and replacing it with a mad dash for the end products. Suddenly, the intrinsic motivators of natural curiosity, competence and self-efficacy are less valuable than extrinsic motivators such as stickers, points and grades. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivators undermine kids’ desire to learn over the long term. Want your kid to lose interest in school? Pay them for their A’s and worship at the altar of grades. If you’d instead like your kids to remain curious and hungry for mastery, here are some tips for re-orienting kids’ priorities.

  • Keep report cards off social media and the refrigerator. We can tell our kids that we value learning all we want, but when we gush over grades and stick them to the refrigerator, we show them that what we value most are the grades. Of course, grades are what most parents are stuck with, even if they are flawed and incomplete indicator of learning as well as what’s known as an “extrinsic motivator,” which has been shown to reduce motivation over the long term, undermine creativity, and encourage cheating. Some schools have moved away from letter-based grades and are using reports focused on mastery- or standards-based evaluations, which can help parents and kids focus on what’s being learned rather a grade. No matter what kind of report your child gets, humble-bragging about it on social media only feeds parental competition, raises the pressure for kids and teaches them that your love and approval is contingent on the content of their report card.
  • Focus on the process they used to get that grade. When we invest less energy and emotion in the number or letter at the top of the page, we can begin to ask our children questions such as, What did you do to get this grade? Which study techniques worked for you and which ones did not? What are you going to do differently next time?
  • Look forward, not back. The best question parents can ask when faced with a grade, whether high or low, is: How are you going to use this experience to be better next time? This technique works particularly well for anxious and overly perfectionist kids, because they can get stuck in a negative feedback loop, obsessing wholly on the numbers and grades. Helping them shift their focus back to the process can alleviate that anxiety, particularly when we help them prioritize the aspects of learning they can control.

Model: Talk about your own failures and successes with your kids, showing them that you, too, are invested in the process of learning. If you berate yourself over failures, so will they. If, however, they see you being brave and learning from your mistakes so you can be better next time, so will they.

Value Goals Over Grades

One easy way to invest in process is to set goals, both individually and as a family. Try to do this at the beginning of a new school year, the first of the month, or the beginning of a new season.  Keep the discussion light and low-pressure. This process isn’t about getting better grades, it’s about supporting learning as a family.

Everyone (yes, that means parents, too) sets three short-term, achievable goals oriented around tasks and improvements under your control. For example, “I’m going to get all A’s this semester” is too broad and too difficult to control. Instead, try “I’m going to ask for help in math more often,” “I will plan one extra help session a week,” or “I will practice my multiplication three extra times this month.”

One of those three goals should be a challenge. We can’t hope to convince our children to be emotionally and intellectually brave unless they see us do the same, so set some goals that get you out of your comfort zone. Take guitar or dance or Spanish lessons, try an activity you have never tried before, or pick up a new hobby. This is, after all, how we expand our cognitive potential and make new connections in our brains that can help us become stronger, smarter and more efficient learners.

A few years ago, one of my sons’ goals was to make a few new friends, a goal that was both challenging and important to him.

Before you set new goals, take the time to assess how everyone did on past goals. Review these goals once a month or once a semester. If you fail to achieve your goals talk about why, and what you plan to do differently next time. If you succeed, celebrate that achievement!

Model: Watching a parent set a scary, ambitious goal and talk about the process of achieving it is the most direct way to teach children that learning and striving to be better are human goals, not just school goals.

Maintain a Long-Term Perspective

Education and parenting are both long-haul endeavors, and improvements don’t happen on a daily basis.

  • Don’t live in the daily emergency of this homework or this test. Instead, think about where you’d like your child to be in a year or five years in terms of competence and growth. Which is more important to you, that you deliver your child’s forgotten math homework today or that she develops a strategy for not forgetting her math homework tomorrow?

Model: When things go wrong in your own life, talk about them. Keep your focus on doing better next time and your long-term perspective. For example if you mess up at work, frame your discussion around improvement and long-term progress: “Well, this work project did not work out the way I wanted, but I still love what I do and want to be doing something related in five years. Here’s how I plan to learn from this so I can get there.”


A Lesson from the Mayflower

On this day in 1620, the Mayflower set sail for Plymouth, Massachusetts.  On board were men and women seeking to live a life rooted in their values and beliefs.  They believed that being true to what you believed was worth the pain and hardships of moving to a new land.

Each stage of a child’s life is a like entering a “new land” for parents and caregivers.  The developmental stages of a child impacts their behavior and particularly how they treat those who they love the most, their parents.  Though we don’t face the same immeasurable challenges that the early travelers on Mayflower had to overcome, there is an important lesson here for parents and caregivers today.

The lesson that we can all learn today is to stay true to the values and beliefs that you have for your family, even during times of challenge.  Such challenges for parents are: busy work schedules; over-structured child schedules; the lure of keeping children quiet with screens; the pain of saying “No” or disappointing a child; not understanding the developmental changes a child is experiencing; and over anxiety that limits a child’s ability to become independent.

When parents remain true to their values by acting and responding in ways that are aligned with those values, a few things happen: 1) children begin to understand the true meaning of the value because they observe the tangible actions that reflect that value in the home  2) children begin to recognize the importance of staying true to something bigger than oneself  3) children feel secure knowing there are consistent parameters and expectations for ways their family will live 4) children grow up knowing what their parent, parents, or caregivers believe is important in life.

Staying true to your values when your children don’t yet understand them can be stressful.  However, when a parent makes decisions based on their values instead of appeasing a child or taking the easier path, the child (and the family) will ultimately benefit.

 


A Window into the Learning

I feel so grateful to once again hear the laughter and voices of the children in the hallways and in the classrooms as we begin the first full week of school.  This has been a smooth start of school thus far and the teachers and staff have done an outstanding job preparing the learning environments for the children.  As a teacher mentioned today, “The children need to trust their environment first.”   This is quite true and we have seen firsthand how the beauty, simplicity, and calmness of a space helps a child feel comfortable and secure.

On the FWM calendar, we have a few special events coming up but I’d like to highlight one that is of particular importance.  Thursday evening is FWM’s Curriculum Night.  At this event, head teachers (and those teachers with assistants) will share information about their program and ways the program translates into learning in the environment.  Teachers will also discuss and give details about class level events, field trips, and experiences.  In addition, enrichment teachers will be present to explain what the learning looks like in their space as well.

Most parents are very curious about what a school day looks like and what their child will learn throughout the year.  This is the night to gain a broader and deeper understanding of the classroom experience directly from your child’s teacher.

I highly recommend all parents attend this important event.  FWM is providing limited childcare (there are 15 spots for children available) in the After School Room for parents with Primary and Elementary age children.  In order to remain in a safe ratio, we are unable to accept walk-ins or more than 15 children.  All parents interested in childcare must email Michele Stramaglia at mstramaglia@fraserwoods.com.

I hope to see you Thursday!

 


“Let Nature be your teacher”

In college, I was inspired by the poets of English Romanticism.  One of my favorites is William Wordsworth whose poetry made me think differently about the relationship between people and nature.  Recently, while reading some of Wordsworth’s works, I came across a poem that seemed fitting as we begin summer vacation.  Interestingly, the actual message in the poem is more relevant to children in a traditional learning environment; however, the overall meaning is Montessori in nature and a good reminder to our FWM families.

Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and enjoyable summer!

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
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Celebrating Milestones

Since their earliest origins, human beings have recognized the importance of making time to celebrate important life milestones.  We gather to acknowledge a special moment has passed or will be passing soon.  These moments are connected, like a web, to other people and within that web, they are rooted to a significant experience that reminds us of the joys that life brings.

As we conclude the school year, there will be a string of significant experiences worth celebrating as a community.   Our children have come so far since September and their growth is the result of many whose love and care have helped them along the way.  As in all effective Montessori schools, it is the child who carved his or her own path forward – but all were aided by a community who believed in their ability to achieve success.

I hope you will join me for a special evening designed to celebrate the conclusion of the school year.  This Friday at 5pm is the End of the School Celebration.  The entire FWM community will meet on the playground for a concert, dinner, and some fun entertainment.  This is a family event and one of the more popular celebratory gatherings at the school.  I hope you and your family can join us.

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