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Go Pro with the Parent-Teacher Conference

How to grow kids into adults who know how to play to their strengths

Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash

by Kim Turnage

As parents of three children, my husband and I are not exaggerating when we say we’ve been the parents in about 100 parent-teacher conferences. We’ve had lots of practice, and about halfway in, we figured out that including our kids as active participants in parent-teacher conferences would maximize the utility of that precious one-on-one time with teachers. Here’s why…and it has everything to do with preparing them to be highly effective adult employees and leaders.

It’s great practice for the kinds of performance evaluation conversations our kids will have with employers for the rest of their lives.

Bringing our students to conferences makes them (not us) responsible for communication with teachers about their performance. They will have this responsibility with their supervisors in their first jobs – and with managers, leaders and corporate boards for the rest of their lives.

As an adult, knowing what you know now, what do you wish you had learned sooner about how to have effective performance evaluation conversations?

This is our chance to coach our kids in real time.

They can practice advocating for themselves, asking questions, negotiating expectations and navigating other real-life, adult, performance-related conversations. As parents, we’re not there to do it for them. Instead, we ask leading questions and facilitate conversation aimed at helping our students work together with their teachers to:

  • Bridge any gaps between performance and expectations.
  • Make the most of any emerging potential, talent or strength.

As an adult, how often are your performance evaluation conversations focused on both of the above?

Our goal is to help our students develop the focus on strengths that will serve them well for a lifetime.

When students are underperforming:
Teachers are ready and willing to address performance weaknesses, and, as parents, we help direct the student-teacher conversation toward the root causes for such weaknesses. One of our primary questions is this:

Are we looking at an effort problem, a teaching/learning disconnect, or a talent problem?

  • Poor grades may signal that a student isn’t working hard enough and consistently enough to achieve a level of competence…why?
  • They may signal that students are missing key concepts or skills…which ones and why?
  • In the upper grades, poor grades may also signal that a student is approaching the ceiling on his or her real potential or interest in that area of study. AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Literature and AP Spanish aren’t for everyone. Neither are Graphic Design, Guitar and Rock Climbing. Where our students struggle may help clarify where they should direct their energies…and in our family that is often NOT toward further struggle in areas of intractable weakness, but instead toward areas of greater strength.

When students are performing beyond expectations:
Too many teachers miss great opportunities to explore untapped potential and talent. A few times we have settled in for the 7-minute conference with a teacher who meets us with a quizzical smile, wondering why we’re all there because our student has a curve-busting 102%.

Here are some conversations we like to start when we encounter that kind of opportunity:

  • What do you (the student) love about this subject?
  • What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned?
  • What do you want to learn more about?
  • How can we (as the adults) help you take a step beyond this class that would nurture your talent and interest in this subject or give you new opportunities to learn and explore?

Two of our students have moved on to college, and one is still in high school. All of them are beginning to go pro with the parent-teacher conference as they take greater responsibilities for managing expectations and exploring their strengths with teachers, college professors and the supervisors and managers at their first jobs.

What about you?

  • As an adult, how many times have you had a manager evaluate your performance? Maybe you’re a manager. How many times have you evaluated someone else’s performance?
  • How could you make those performance evaluation conversations more effective?
  • When you encounter performance gaps, are you consistently focusing on their root causes and considering multiple possibilities?
  • How often are you redirecting efforts away from areas of weakness and toward areas of strength, talent and potential?
  • As a leader, when you sit down with your top performers, what do you have to say? Are you exploring their talents and motivations and looking for ways to help maximize their continued growth and achievement?

Originally published at talentplus.com

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