This is part of a series of posts on my reflections on The Laboratory Charter School in my neighborhood — specifically how other urban schools could learn a few things from the way it models its program.
Parents have to sign a contract before their children can be admitted to the Laboratory School. They have to check homework, approve weekly progress reports, attend monthly meetings, and show up for parent-teacher conferences.
This is a two-way street. Not only is the school asking for a commitment from the parents, it is committing in turn to provide constant, regular, timely feedback about its students.
This is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in these beginning years of teaching: even more important than the quality of instruction is the quality of feedback.
Being an analytical person, I started off making the mistake of treating assessment like economics and set up a transparent system with lots of data and the expectation that everyone would act like perfectly rational agents. Not good. My reports confused parents and/or gave them the opportunity to micromanage their children and nitpick my grades.
I then became a little too lax in grading things on time and following up on requests for feedback. Once again, it put a strain on parent-teacher relations.
My own school has the policy of providing mid-trimester reports along with trimester report cards. Every student gets written comments from each of their teachers with their first mid-tri. Every student also gets a written comment from each teacher at the end of the year. Teachers only have to write written comments at other times in the year for students who are doing poorly in their class or who are flagged for extra attention. There’s also an open parent conference week after the first mid-tri where each guardian is encouraged (but not required) to see their child’s advisor. Of course, families can schedule additional parent-teacher conferences anytime they request them.
This is a pretty good system, and my school has a good reputation of accommodating and supporting students who have trouble adjusting in any way.
What’s impressive about the Laboratory School, however, is that they provide weekly schedules to parents which outlines all the assignments and assessments coming up in every class. Of course, this can only be done if you have a rigid curriculum, or if you require teachers to plan out their lesson plans at least a week in advance. I’m sure most teachers would balk, but it certainly helps parents and is another advantage of a planned sequential curriculum.
Parents at the Lab School must also attend monthly meetings, which go beyond the typical PTA powwow to include seminars and training on the ins and outs of the school, its culture, and its paperwork. I like the idea that parents are educated in the system of the school; it communicates that the school wants to work with the parents in a spirit of openness and transparency. It reduces an us vs. them mentality so prevalent in most public schools, which often come off as monolithic institutions policing and regulating lives, not empowering them.
Finally, the school seems to do a good job of providing concrete avenues of additional support for struggling performances. Parents aren’t left hung out to dry feeling helpless about their kids’ inadequacies. They’re told how to stay on top of the homework. There’s a program for one-on-one tutoring after school. Accommodations are strategized and implemented. Hopefully, there’s a learning specialist or counselor available through the school.
Bottom line: everyone’s kept in the loop about how well expectations are being met, and everyone’s made aware of the actionable steps to get back on track.