Commentary: A Better Back to School Experience: Partnership Meetings

Another school year is only days away. As a parent, teacher or student, what would you want the 2017-18 school year to be like? Will it be business as usual or more productive than ever?

Parents and teachers can do something that will make a big difference, if they have the courage and determination to make it happen. Parents should meet with teachers, as a Davis County elementary school did a few years ago. Teachers and each child’s parents should hold a 30 or 40-minute meeting to establish home-school partnerships. The school district should allow for three half days for these meetings.

After a few days of school, so teachers can get to know their students, parents come back prepared to answer these questions:

• What would you like for the school to help you do for your child this year?

• What are your child’s talents, interests and special needs that we should know about?

• How can we work as partners to help your child learn more effectively?

Teachers should primarily act as learners and listen intently to the parent(s) (or other care givers) and take notes. The notes are then used for teachers to meet with each child and become aware of his or her needs. Notes are also beneficial for follow-up meetings with parents.

Partnership meetings help teachers and parents see the great potential of each student and provide an understanding that each student is different from all other students. Each has different gifts and talents to be developed. Parents and teachers can unite and convey high expectations for each child. Together they assist him or her to see their future as a valuable contributor to society.

Partnership meetings usher in a different kind of education system. Currently, Utah’s education system is subject driven. The curriculum — what all students are supposed to know and be able to do — is predetermined by subject matter specialists and imposed on teachers to be taught to students. Much emphasis and time is placed on teaching students how to read, write and use numbers, using memorizations as the chief strategy. Learning is measured by unreliable standardized tests. Other subjects like art, music, history, geography, biology, zoology, health and many others are given a low priority.

Partnership meetings, with a focus on individual students, make hundreds of subjects and learning activities a high priority. They provide an opportunity for each student to excel at something. In student oriented education, each student takes control over what subjects and learning activities are most important for him or her – anything from atoms to zebras and everything in between. Every child can become a genius in something!

In student oriented schools, basic skills are learned when the time is right for each student, not according to an officially and traditionally established uniform schedule. When reading, writing and math skills are learned for the purposes and needs of students, they are learned more effectively and become more useful.

Parents and teachers everywhere should discuss adopting schools that individualize student learning. The main result and benefit is extraordinary learning and accomplishment for all students, not merely for the few who get A’s and B’s in the conventional, subject-driven system. 

M. Donald Thomas is a retired Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and a national education consultant. He can be reached at

Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal and conference speaker. He can be reached at

from The Salt Lake Tribune


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