21 Aug 2014
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At Coan Middle School: An Education in Personal Responsibility

Getting children to take ownership in their own academic success.

Scores of parents funneled through the doors of Coan Middle School last week to meet with teachers and get an update on their children’s' academic progress.

But the twist on these familiar, mid-semester parent-teacher conferences was that at Coan, the students were included in those meetings.

In fact, the multiday conferences held last week for each of Coan's 325 kids were really centered on the students themselves instead of the parents.

The 20-minute meetings were designed to help each student gauge his or her progress, establish goals for academic achievement and develop a blueprint on how to meet them.

Moms and dads were there to listen in and offer their input.

"It went well," Latwain Butler, who attended the one-on-one meeting between her son, Phillip, and his teacher.

"My son is a high achiever, but it helps me to know that he's on the correct path. Me, as a parent, I want to know that."

By having the students be part a key part of the discussion gets them to take ownership of their academic success, said Betsy Bockman, Coan's principal.

When she took over Coan this school year, Bockman, a former principal at high-achieving Inman Middle and Morningside Elementary schools, said one of her goals was to develop that sense of personal responsibility and to foster within the kids the sense that they could achieve.

The student-centered conferences came about, she said, because many of the kids had the sense that they couldn't succeed that ranged from they didn't know how to, they felt they weren't good at school or simply that they were failures.

She said she wanted to take away those negative self-expectations and replace it with an alternative.

"I'm trying to get students to take more ownership, to see that they can control their future and their present and that they can actually control their achievement and own it."

As such, the teachers came up with individual learning plans for each pupil designed to help them develop skills they need for self-assessment and to set benchmarks for achievement.

And though they're middle schoolers now, this approach is helps build students' ability to advocate for themselves in terms of what tools they'll need from teachers, a particularly useful skill when they enter high school, Bockman said.

"I'm trying to build their self-efficacy and the way that I think you do that is through ownership of your work," she said.

Please click on the video to hear our complete interview with Bockman.

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