Brianna Gidcumb | November 2017
Conferencing to Build Community in Your Arts Program
Parent-teacher conferences have arrived for many educators. I think back to my days as an elementary music educator, and what those days meant to me, to my students and their parents. For the first decade of my teaching career, I sat alone in my classroom during those long hours. Parents would come in to conference with their child’s classroom teacher, but would never step foot near the arts corner of the building.
But in my last couple of years of teaching, my district implemented a change in the process of scheduling conferences that made meeting with art, music, and PE teachers more accessible. The lonely days of conferences past were no more! I was meeting with parents every minute of those conference days. And I realized how valuable that time can be, especially for arts educators who have a wide base of stakeholders and limited visibility and accessibility to them.
Conferencing with parents can be an incredible tool not only to connect with parents about their child’s performance, but also to increase the sense of community in and around the arts. Here are few ideas as we head into conference season:
Make the Connection
If you have a means to schedule conferences with parents individually, good for you! If this isn’t part of your current structure, find other ways to connect face to face with parents. Simply standing in the hallway or inviting parents into your room to personally distribute information (i.e., curriculum guides, informational brochures on arts integration, infographics about the power of the arts, etc.) opens up the lines of communication to engage in conversation about the vision and the structure of the arts education you strive to provide for their children.
You might find creative ways to display student work, going beyond the “dog and pony show” of art exhibits. Think about how you might give parents a real glimpse into what goes on in your classroom. Take pictures of students at work. Post drafts of student work, learning targets, and materials. Create a video of students in action. Create an open-house atmosphere where parents can rotate through a sample of mini-centers to give them a chance to see what their child’s arts experience looks like.
Conferences are a great opportunity to educate parents about what their children are learning in the arts. My own elementary music education was a sit-and-sing experience, and during conference, I found that was the perspective many parents still had when it came to their child’s music education.
Conferences provide an opportunity to inform parents about standards, practices, and assessments in the arts. None of the home communication I sent out in all my years of teacher really had the same impact as sharing with parents, face-to-face, the vision and the structure of their child’s arts education. Once parents had a better understanding of what it was their child was doing in music class, they were much more actively engaged in their child’s music education. It also helps to have those boots on the ground to help inform others with whom you don’t have the opportunity to meet. The parents you conference with might become your own little community of advocates.
Deepen Understanding of Students
Conferences are an incredible avenue to talk about students with the people who know them best – their parents. Share praise and concerns, and collaborate in the desire to do whatever is necessary to support students. Often, the areas for growth that I discussed with parents are things that are being shared in conferences with other teachers, and we were able to begin to devise a plan to support that student as a team of teachers and parents, rather than struggling in isolation. When I shared concerns about a student who was struggling in music class, the parents were able to offer information to help me better understand that student and how I might be able to reach him/her in a different way.
Opening that line of communication became essential to reaching students who needed something I hadn’t been providing.
It may be impossible to meet with the families of every child you teach, but some are better than none. In many cases, conferences were my first introduction to some parents, many of whom were enthusiastic about their child’s music education and wanted to know what they could do to support their child’s learning in the arts.
In addition to sharing valuable information about students, conferences can be a great tool to recruit parents as volunteers (many hands make light work!), to discuss how parents might help their children reinforce artistic concepts at home, and encourage families to find opportunities for artistic extension and engagement outside of school. Additionally, you might find a wealth of knowledge and professional expertise of varied backgrounds right in your own community. Maybe you have a parent who plays for a local symphony. Maybe another is a ceramics artist. Is there a way you can utilize those assets in your own classroom to bring the “real world” of the arts to your students?
Being the lone art or music teacher in a building can be an isolating job, for sure. But when we build community in and around the arts, we create a village with whom we can advocate as well as celebrate the arts and those who study them!