What do we name the discussions/ conversations/chats whose target audiences are parents and family caregivers of children who attend our schools? We call them everything except that for which they truly are intended. We aim for partnerships, to provide academic performance updates and familiarize families with the curriculum and expectations. Aside from individual student specific school-related meetings with staff, most events that target parents and families are poorly named.
Events of great significance, for example- the Parent-Teacher Conferences– are rather poorly named. As a parent, or a career professional[making no assumptions that parents can’t be both], when there is an upcoming ‘conference’, the mental imagery is usually a formal, rigid event. More appropriate for a professional team, or individuals convening for the purpose of information gathering, strategizing or brainstorming ideas and concepts, because everyone is already connected and equally respected with the knowledge that they belong there and are welcomed.
Although the aim and agendas are similar regarding parents at school events, if we really wish to appear more inviting to all parents, we might want to consider holding a re-naming ‘conference’ for educators. We may want to brainstorm prior to sending out invitations and reminders prior to the beginning of the school year.
The conjured thoughts forewarn us of impending bad news. Someone did something wrong at work, and so we are going to hear about it. We assume that we are going to be ‘told’ that we aren’t or haven’t been working hard enough to achieve the organizational goals[which almost always aren’t mutually determined goals]. Put parents in our place and I’ll bet that they receive similar messages. Perhaps, this may even explain why attendance is often low at these events. You can guarantee that the ‘reluctant’ parent is more likely than not to bow out of making an appearance. That doesn’t indicate their lack of concern for their child’s education, and we should not make that erroneous assumption. Such conclusions reflect the lack of empathic awareness and cultural proficiency.
It could be all that preceded this event; their history with ‘conferences’ from past experiences. If so, then who wants to re-visit those times, and then return voluntarily? Even as a parent, it still may pose a dilemma, and though wishing the best for their child, it may be difficult to erase those old memories.
Why not shake it up and change their perceptions from the onset. If nothing other than changing the name, it will change perceptions. It may even promote enough curiosity and intrigue to tip the scales towards attending these vital school events. Should you decide to heed my suggestion, keep a positive tone, make it somewhat informal and 21st Century creative, too.
Off the top of my head, I’ve come up with a few ideas that may work without using that word….conference. Feel free [or not].
- Partnership Network
- Achievement Update
- Information Exchange
- Scholars Advisory
- Community Circle
- Family Forum
- Student/Scholars’ Studio
- Parenting Gathering
- Discussion Depot
- Parent Panel
- Collegial Conversation
- Student Showcase
- Homeroom Huddle
For parent/family groups/meetings, consider these:
- Empowerment Exchange
- Homework Huddle/Heroes
- Family Forum
- Community Caucus
- Brain-storming Buzz-session
- Leadership Guild
Make it sound less intimidating, more casual, fun, and stay focused on learning, building capacity, and student achievement. If no new moniker works for your school, then return to naming these opportunities for making real connections with families… intimidating “conferences”.
So, why don’t we try to re-label these events and make them sound less intimidating and less anxiety-producing? Doing so will aid in the transformation of the traditional conference scenario, influence and alter perceptions so that even the busiest parents will want to attend, too. We need every parent to attend these activities, and if we continue to present the same strategies to parents, then we will continue to get the same outcomes…low attendance. Target those parents who are the most vulnerable, reluctant, and underserved in our efforts, because they are the families we need most. Don’t forget to offer childcare, transportation, food[snacks-if lunch hour, and meals-if dinner hour], and meet them where they are. Help them learn to use what they’ve got in new ways, re-frame and re-name those ‘formal’ meetings even though we know that there are some formal components. Names matter! And, by all means, let the students lead them!