Slice of Life: Listening to Learn

Parent conferences have started, and my one little word is my best friend.


First thing Monday morning D comes to me with a pained expression on her face and says, “Do I havvvve to be there Mrs. Harmatz?”

Me: You are running the conference, of course.

D: But it’s called Parent-Teacher Conferences not Parent-Student Conferences!

Me: Maybe we should rename it.

She goes on to tell me that a pair of UGGs and Nikes are on the line with this conference.

D: What are you gonna say Mrs. Harmatz?

Me: You’re saying everything. I’m just listening. I might just ask a few questions.

After school, D shares her favorite writing piece with her mom. I ask her to tell us why she choose it.

D: Because it is about my favorite thing, my birthday. I get presents and we have cake!

Me: Great! Is there another piece you are really proud of? (I’m hoping she’ll show her informational text that took weeks of work.)

She looks through the blog, and comes right back to the birthday post.

Me: What did you do as a writer that you liked?

D: I liked how I said how happy I was.

This was not the piece I would have highlighted, but I’m glad D stuck with her birthday piece. She chose the one that made her happy. The one that mattered to her, not me.

Hmm… This tweet found me when I got home.

When she first choose that piece I was shocked. I never would have guessed that was her favorite piece. It was one she did on her own, it wasn’t a piece from a unit of study. It was something she did on her own. Did it showcase her best work or her meeting of the standards? Not really. But if I were asked to choose my favorite writing, it would be the one that mattered most to me. And that might not be the one that meant the most to others. That’s exactly what D did.

Lesson #1 Learned: What matters to students matters. This is where we start and continue our teaching.

Z came to me at the end of the day and said,” Do I havvvve to be there?”

I go through the same song and dance as I did with D.

Even though she resisted, she prepared for her conference. The writing work she was most proud of was loaded up on the iPad, her best writing about reading was ready to share, and her self assessment was prepared.

She started by sharing her research report with her mom .The one I would have shared with mom.

Mom: Z I love this beginning! You really captured me. It is really quite clever.  Z, I am so impressed.

Z: Did you see my ending Mom?

Mom: Yes, Z… It is very good.

It was such a lovely moment I forgot to ask why she choose this piece.


Lesson #2  Learned: Ask why, even when you agree. The reasons they state may not be the reasons you think!

J was next and clearly not very happy about the prospect of a conference. J is a student who a teacher might say, “struggles with focus.” I let her talk. I asked a few questions, mostly why and say more about that.

In the end, engagement was what tipped the scales toward her success. No huge surprise. Things that get her excited, especially DRAMA lift her awareness and get her to move toward a more focused state, away from those pesky distractions.

Now I’m thinking about how to engage her, not how to get her to focus. I’m not thinking about how to focus her, but how to engage her. Tapping into her desire for drama will lift her towards learning.

Lesson #3 Learned: Forget about focus and think engagement. See this post for more on that.

Conference days are long, but when studied and listened to, provide a goldmine of knowledge that can guide our next steps.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays! Read more and add you own slice here.






11 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Listening to Learn

  1. You’ve chosen a great OLW. Really listening is a skill and a gift. I love that you found the tweet when you got home and felt validated and connected by it. Thanks for sharing such a great example of a student goal that was different than what you might have chosen.

  2. These are great snippets into your conferences, Julieanne. I love how you really let the students take charge. I hope my girls get the opportunity to share their work and thinking with me in a conference like that someday!

  3. Julieanne, I agree with Dana in that your focus for conferencing with parents remains with the child as the creator of his/her learning. What a gift to allow a child to become a reflective thinker in the presence of a parent. You wove lessons from your story parts and drew me into your tale.

  4. Okay, how happy am I that I just read your post?!?! I love the lessons that you weave in here, Julieanne. They are so important. Ask why, even when we agree–that’s a GREAT one! I missed you last night, but you were doing really important work.

  5. We still do conferences the old fashioned way, teacher to parent. No Kids. I try to involve the kids in my IEP meetings but it’s not always possible and believe it or not, legally only the principal and I have to be there. Don’t you think it’s way past time that the students themselves are involved in their own education? Not sure if it will ever make it this far.

  6. What a great word to keep close! Too often we think we listen, but we don’t really because we have the agenda all ready set in our minds. When we really listen to our kids, we gain so much knowledge. You always leave me with thoughts to reflect on. 🙂

  7. Great to hear, Julieanne, & the best is that you ‘listened’ & then ‘learned’. Nothing better than that I think. There is so much to learn in those parent-student-teacher conferences. All of our students present their portfolios, even the youngest, & I am often surprised at what my students highlight. Sometimes they are pieces that I remember received much praise from classmates! Guess who their teachers are besides me? Love this!

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