I hold student-led conferences, where I expect students to talk about their accomplishments and their plans to improve. Most parents appreciate this, but sometimes they will address questions to me as if the student weren’t present: “What do you think he could do to raise his math grade?” “How is her behavior in class?” I always direct the question to the student: “How do you think you’re doing? What’s your plan for improvement?”
This disappoints parents at first, but after I let the students speak and then chime in afterward with my input, they’re usually satisfied. Sometimes I remind students of conversations we’ve had; other times I offer suggestions. But I never talk about them with their parents as if they aren’t present at the table.
It’s a habit we get into when our children are babies, too young to understand what we’re saying. As they get older, we adapt by s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g or using half sentences: “Did you take care of his. . .?” There comes a point, however, when it’s just not okay to talk about them as if they’re not there, and that time arrives somewhere in elementary school.
If it’s a conversation about your kids that you don’t want them involved in, hold it when they’re not present. If they’re in the room and it’s actually about them, include them in the conversation. Allow them to tell their side of the story, and then involve them in seeking solutions where needed.
At the beginning of every conference, I remind my students that they’re in charge. Since every conversation is about them, doesn’t it make sense that every conversation should include them?