Category Archives: communication

Parent-Teacher Conferences Truly Matter

Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled at Belle River Elementary next week. This is an opportunity for the essential stakeholders to meet for a frank discussion about the successes and challenges facing each learner at our school. With the implementation of online progress reporting and digital communication of classroom and school news, this face-to-face meeting is especially important for members of a child’s learning team to address specific issues and develop a relationship that cannot be cultivated through electronic means. Rather than just informing parents through a one-way stream of information, a conference is a two-way conversation that fosters a partnership between home and school. Parent-teacher conferences serve the following purposes:

Parents need to see firsthand what is happening at school.

Often there are misconceptions based on public perception or lack of knowledge of current practices in education. A parent-teacher conference allows the teacher to share work samples and information that reflect day-to-day student work. It is a good time to share instructional practices, curriculum information, assessments, and data that are used to inform instructional strategies and interventions. Conferences provide parents an opportunity to see into their child’s world at school.

Parents want ideas to help support teaching and learning.

Teachers have spent years developing skills and techniques to help children learn, and parents really want to tap into that expertise and take away some ideas to help their children think and learn. Teaching parents the terms related to instructional programs, sharing book titles and educational apps, modeling questions to foster high-level thinking, and providing strategies to help children study are some ways teachers can teach parents learn how to help their children improve as students.

Parents need to understand and provide insight into the uniqueness of their student.

In order to better personalize the learning experience for our students, parents are key in developing the learning plan. Both teachers and parents can share the students’ strengths, interests, and opportunities for growth from their perspectives. They can also offer suggestions. Teachers can direct parents toward resources, and parents can inform teachers about students’ personalities and preferences that might inform learning activities. Through combining the school and home points-of-view, instruction can be individualized to better meet the student’s needs. 

As much as digital communication has taken over schools, communicating in person will always be the most effective. The teachers at Belle River are ready to answer questions, share observations, provide suggestions, and learn from parents in order to ensure the success of each of their students. We hope to see all of our parents next week at conferences!

Following are some questions for parents to ask at parent-teacher conferences:

  • Is my child performing at grade level?
  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses in each subject?
  • How much time should my child spend on homework?
  • Are my child’s assignments completed accurately?
  • Does the school have special programs to meet my child’s needs?
  • What are my child’s special learning needs?
  • Does my child have close friends?
  • How well does my child get along with the other students?
  • What can we do at home to support classroom learning?
  • What is the best way to keep in touch with you?

We look forward to seeing all of our parents at conferences next week!


Socrative Circles

I have always believed that my ultimate mission as an educator is to teach students how to think. That is why I was excited for the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which are founded on developing students’ abilities to think critically, communicate globally, express their creativity, and connect across multiple forms of media. These skills are essential for students to be successful in school and in the global workforce in their futures. One instructional strategy that has helped me impart these thinking and communication abilities is Socrative Circles.

A Socrative Circle is an activity in which students work together to construct meaning and arrive at an answer through participating in an intellectual conversation centered on a text, video, piece of art, or other form of media. The word Socratic comes from the name of the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates, who developed a Theory of Knowledge. He believed that the answers to all human questions and problems reside within us, and the way to discover those answers was through the practice of disciplined conversation. Socrative Circles or Socrative Seminars have become common practices at the secondary level, but I found a way to implement this practice at the elementary level. The results have been better than I imagined!IMG_0911

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First, students watch a video or read a text. I often use short TED Talks that are connected to a particular concept we are studying in social studies, like pollution or entrepreneurialism. Students watch the video twice and take notes. Then, I count students off and they form groups of four to discuss the ideas presented in the video. Students are given a list of questions or considerations that I’ve created beforehand to springboard their small group discussions. After about twenty minutes of substantive conversation, the students push all of the desks to the perimeter of the classroom and form a large circle of chairs. Then, the entire class participates in a whole group discussion about the topic.

During the whole group discussion, I silently observe and take notes about how students participate. The children take the lead and work together to participate in a high-level, mature discussion. This is the result of time spent establishing and following sets of goals and norms.


  • Listen better to what others say.
  • Explain your own ideas.
  • Speak and work with others whether you are close with them or not.
  • Receive correction and criticism from others.
  • Ask about what you don’t understand.
  • Admit when you are wrong.
  • Think about questions for which answers are uncertain.
  • Learn from others.
  • Teach others.
  • Understand a public issue more deeply.


  • Be respectful of others.  A discussion is an exchange of ideas and not a debate.  There should be no side conversations, because each person should be engaged in the conversation and all ideas should be shared with the group.
  • Read texts and view videos carefully.  Your opinions are important, but these opinions are your thoughts about the text or video.  Think “claim and evidence”.
  • Listen carefully to what others say and do not interrupt.  Hands do not have to be raised, and you can contribute your ideas to the conversation naturally when another person has stopped sharing.
  • Speak clearly and loudly so others hear and understand you.  Repeat what another person has shared before contributing your questions or ideas to ensure that you understand what he or she said.
  • Pay attention to your “air time”.  We want to hear from all of the voices in our classroom.  Gently encourage students who have not shared to contribute to the conversation.

At the end of the discussion, students reflect on the discussion process and their conclusions about the issue being discussed. Then, we brainstorm ideas for taking action or using our new understandings.

In addition to developing thinking and communication skills, the Socrative Circle discussions have resulted in students thinking globally and taking action locally. After our Socrative Circle discussion on plastic pollution in the Pacific gyres, Samantha and Sophie wrote a letter to the editor that was published in The Voice newspaper. Students also started brining in reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones. Another discussion about young entrepreneurs motivated some students to research how to create an app. Students are also independently reading articles critically and evaluating them as potential topics for future Socrative Circle discussions. Finally, students really see how how the concepts they are learning about in class connect to the world in important, useful ways.

Letter to The Editor written by Samantha and Sophie
Letter to The Editor written by Samantha and Sophie

Since we are currently studying U.S. government, our most recent Socrative Circle was about leadership. The students watched a short video of children talking about the qualities of good leaders, and they also read a list of quotes about leadership made by famous people. Then, the children discussed the video and quotes in small groups and met for a whole-class talk about what makes a good leader. This video highlights some of the deep thinking and ideas from the large Socrative Circle. Based on the conversation, I am confident that my class if full of great leaders!