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This past week we had parent teacher conferences for each of my two school-aged daughters and I did something that I never thought I would do.

Let me just say that they are great kids and great students. My wife and I have no concerns whatsoever about their progress this school year. Other than the occasional forgotten assignment or procrastination on a project, they both tend to be well-adjusted, great students. (We are truly blessed and hope it continues in middle school, high school and beyond.)

All of that being said, at our first conference with our 2nd grader, her teacher shared with us an example of a timed math facts activity. Basic addition and subtraction facts, not for a grade but just to build fluency – absolutely important for building math skills. My daughter had only a few completed and correct – less than I may have anticipated…so that’s when I asked the question I never thought I would ask.

“How does that compare with the rest of the class?”

It doesn’t really matter how she compares with the rest of the class, my real question should have been in regards to my daughter meeting expectations or not – regardless of her classmates.

The next day we had conferences for my oldest daughter, 5th grade. (Side note – this was my first experience as a parent with a student led conference – really neat idea and a great way for students to own their learning.) In talking about math and her progress, I did it again.

“What is the math placement process for 6th grade?”

Not a bad question, the issue was my motivation behind the question. Reading between the lines, my real question was “Does she have a chance at getting into the highest level?”

Twice in one week, I was that parent…

I initially felt guilty but then I realized why I did it. I simply want my kids to have as many opportunities as possible; I want to ensure that I am doing everything necessary to set them up for success.

Isn’t that just what most parents want?

From the parents who appear to be uninvolved to those helicopter parents – they all want to see their students succeed. Problems emerge when parents add undue stress to students by expecting excellence in every area or when schools appear to create barriers to student success. In those instances both sides lose touch of reality and home & school relationships become adversarial.

Ideally, as parents we are able to balance our hopes and dreams for our kids with the reality that not everyone will or even need to excel in everything. If we as parents can advocate for kids and support learning from an informed understanding of education then our involvement in schools will greatly benefit our kids.

On a deeper level, when both parents and educators truly know kids’ strengths, interests, and ambitions then each child will find their pathway to personal success.

If I keep that as my main motivation, then perhaps my questions will look quite different at our next parent-teacher conference.

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