During the fall and spring conference times with parents, teachers typically report on the academic progress of students to parents. It should be a time to share celebrations and concerns. Sometimes the student is present or even “leading” the conference. I believe that this time with parents is a critical one, as it is one of the few times that there is an intense focus on their mutually shared responsibility – the student. From the school side of the equation, this is a prime time to also communicate the mission of the school to the parents. From the parent side, this is an opportunity to have a significant time for a conversation with another adult who has worked with their child about their view of the child’s growth.
I have been emphasizing to Christian schools that this precious conference time should be about more than just academics. Conferences are the best time to discuss the whole child’s progress and, if we are true to our missions, we will take some time to consider the student’s spiritual growth. After all, one of our key distinctives as a school and one of the main reasons parents send their children is so that they will be nurtured in their faith; if we ignore this aspect or give it short shrift, we are missing a great opportunity!
Recently I suggested that we consider the terms wonder, wisdom and work as we consider how to connect our work toward the ultimate outcomes of helping nurture student faith and move them toward shalom. Wolterstorff describes true shalom as harmony with nature, God, man and self. In connecting these words to the K-12 educational experience, I would suggest that wonder is harmony with nature, wisdom is harmony with God, and work is harmony with self and neighbor. I am wondering if this model might work not only for curriculum design, but also for conducting parent-teacher conferences. Using this model as a guide for parent-teacher conferences, our questions/areas of focus with parents might look like this:
- Wonder: Is the student understanding and expressing awe about, and delight in, the created order? Do they understand their place in the world as image-bearers? Are they beginning to develop an understanding of beauty, complexity, design, and what excellence looks like?
- Wisdom: Is the student understanding and responding to the gospel? Do they understand how the world, including themselves, experiences sin and brokenness? Do they understand the good news through Biblical story, personal story, and teacher modeling? Are they beginning to discern good from evil? Are they understanding what it means to embrace and live out their faith – how to live into the grace of Christ and extend it to others?
- Work: Is the student understanding who they are and showing a desire to live out the gospel with their neighbor? How have they responded to opportunities and challenges in the classroom to creatively contribute to the learning and life of others? Have they connected personal gratitude for the gospel with external actions? Are they beginning to understand what it means to restore this world to God’s original intentions?
I truly believe that if we used this model for our parent-teacher conferences we would have a clearer focus on the distinctives of our school mission, a much more meaningful conversation with parents that goes beyond grades and test scores, and a greater potential impact on the students and parents we are called to serve.