How was School
Parents remarked at the seventh and eighth grade adolescent issues conversation last night about the importance of keeping open lines of communication with their middle school children. They acknowledged that this is no easy feat. While there are some middle schoolers who willingly and happily narrate their whole day to you over dinner, most become increasingly private. Single-syllable utterances are a common answer to the question, “How was school?” So what is a parent to do?
The first answer is to keep at it. A middle schooler may keep trying to swing the door closed, but it is our job to put a toe in there and keep it open. We need to insist on initiating conversation. Some families have rituals for this: a walk around the neighborhood, or a commute sitting side by side, cooking together, or a hobby like gardening. Middle school teachers and parents need to be dogged in our expressions of interest. It's what adolescents secretly want from us.
The second answer is to use technology to your advantage. Over the past several years, the middle school has established and expanded on several ways to strengthen the home-school connection. You can read about the night’s homework by checking LREI Connect. Feedback about students’ learning of new concepts and skills is posted on the Jumprope assessment portal. Finally, in each class, students post examples of their own writing, thinking, art, and problem solving to their digital portfolios (which should generate a notification to your email). All of these could be the start of a conversation: I see that your homework is to add to a new composition in music - tell me about the instruments you’re using... It looks like you're participating more in science lately; what changed for you?... I read the draft of the essay on your digital portfolio. How did you choose your thesis?
The third answer is that the second trimester progress reports and subsequent family conferences are structured to give students practice at starting conversations about their experience and parents a provocation for future talks. Second trimester reports include student-written narratives. Students answered the questions: How have you changed as a student in this class this trimester? What are you most proud of and why? What goals do you have for yourself for the last trimester? Who or what do you need to help you meet these goals? In their family conferences starting next week, students will combine and summarize themes from these narratives. I encourage you to use the conference as a launchpad for conversations in the weeks to come, not just as a summary of past hurdles and accomplishments.
If I had to identify the most important takeaway from the adolescent issues conversation, it would be this: the best way to prepare for the inevitable trials of teenage life is to not wait for problems to surface before having important conversations. Establish contact and dialogue when it feels routine. Talk about everyday things. When something urgent, delicate or scary comes up, it will make all the difference to have invested in the habit of conversation.