Monday, April 6, 2015

The New/Old Challenge of High School Relationships

The New York Times is reporting on three-minute parent-teacher conferences at some New York City schools, because that's all that's possible on the limited conference days at schools where many parents actually ask for the meetings and teachers can have up to 150 students at a time. 

I'm sure that Kentucky high schools have very few parents asking to meet with every teacher, and I'm fairly confident that Stuyvesant High is atypical for New York as well. But even so, the article describes a challenge that's worth some Kentucky reflection.  

Here's why.  In our new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, we've defined exemplary teaching to include elements like these:
  • "Teacher actively seeks knowledge of students’ levels of development and their backgrounds, cultures, skills, language proficiency, interests, and special needs from a variety of sources. This information is acquired for individual students."
  • "Teacher’s communication with families is frequent and sensitive to cultural traditions, with students contributing to the communication."
  • "Response to family concerns is handled with professional and cultural sensitivity."
  • "Teacher’s efforts to engage families in the instructional program are frequent and successful."
And yet, that's patently impossible for a teacher who works with 150 students a day.

If we seriously want our teachers to work with students on a personal basis and make connections with their families as well, something will have to change.  Twenty years ago, Kentucky was seriously discussing high school restructuring, including schedules that gave each teacher responsibility for just 80 students at a time.  Those changes could have opened doors to deeper learning and deeper relationships, but most schools backed away from those ideas as too disruptive.  Maybe it's time to dust off those old reports and think again about what we want for learners, for teachers, and for families and what transformations we'll need to get there.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

(Source note: Quotes come from the Framework For Teaching, developed by Charlotte Danielson and adapted by the Kentucky Department of Education.)

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