Ms. Meyers is a mom, teacher, and author who writes about issues in early childhood education and parenting.
Student Study Teams Are Far More Effective Than Parent-Teacher Conferences
With the new emphasis on standardized testing, parents often go away from parent-teacher conferences feeling unsatisfied. They want to know their child is happy at school, making friends, and developing a positive attitude about learning. But instead of getting a comprehensive picture of their youngster's progress—cognitively, behaviorally, and socially—they receive a rundown of test scores. The 20-minute face-to-face is over all too quickly with parents walking away feeling frustrated that the teacher has reduced their child to mere numbers on a page. That's why Student Study Teams (SST) are becoming a popular tool for parents who want to delve deeper than test scores to help their children succeed at school.
Individual Education Plans (IEP) Are Reserved for Children in Special Education
Meetings for children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are often disappointing for parents as well. An IEP, required by law for each youngster in special education, is a legal document that spells out the services the child will receive. When done correctly, the IEP is a team effort with teachers, counselors, and parents working together. . . but in reality, parents are usually left on the sidelines. At IEP meetings, parents are usually deluged with information and verbiage that's unfamiliar to them. They may feel overwhelmed and too intimidated to ask questions for clarity. They sign the IEP, feeling rushed and pressured, and not fully comprehending what it entails.
The Student Study Team: A More Effective Option for School Success
Fortunately, parents have another option in their quest to help their children succeed at school: the Student Study Team (SST). In my experience as both a teacher and mother, I found that the SST is the easiest and most effective way to improve a child's performance at school. Unlike a parent-teacher conference that focuses on test scores, an SST meeting looks at the child as a whole person. Unlike an IEP that's only for children in special education, the SST is available to everyone. I've never seen a parent walk away from an SST feeling disgruntled. On the contrary, they feel elated and empowered that someone has finally listened to their concerns and that steps are being taken to help their child.
What Is a Student Study Team?
A Student Study Team is when the school partners with the parents and uses a problem-solving approach to help students succeed. Some administrators are unfamiliar with the SST model, but parents can educate them!
My introduction to Student Study Teams occurred when I was rookie teacher at an inner-city Catholic school. Our Special Needs Director, Marci, was in charge of facilitating our SST meetings and often asked me to sit in as the recorder. During those meetings, I came to appreciate what a powerful tool an SST is for helping a child who's struggling at school. The youngster receives the needed help before the problem gets out of hand or before she is unnecessarily placed in special education classes.
The best part of an SST is that no one person is solely responsible for the child's progress. Each member of the team—the classroom teacher, the parents, the principal, the counselor, and the child—shares responsibility. The team constructs a support system so nobody feels overburdened or alone.
What Happens in a SST?
Student Study Teams are malleable and should fit the needs of the school and its population. Team members change, but the facilitator stays the same—whether she's the school counselor or psychologist, a specially trained staff member, or the Special Needs Director such as Marci. Here's how it worked at our school:
- A parent, teacher, or other faculty member refers a child to the SST director in writing (a specific form is used). A teacher refers a child only after trying various teaching strategies and behavior management techniques without success. The teacher has done her best but now needs support.
- The SST director sets a date for the SST meeting with the parents and invites the other team members.
- The SST director leads the meeting. Because we are a Catholic school, we begin with a prayer, asking God's guidance as we meet for the benefit of the child. This establishes a positive tone of cooperation and goodwill at the onset of the meeting. The SST director asks everyone to share their concerns about the student. The recorder writes these down for all to see.
- The team develops an action plan for tackling these concerns. The recorder lists them for all to see. The SST director assigns responsibilities to each team member. The recorder writes the person's name next to each duty.
- The SST director schedules a date for the team to meet again (usually in 3 months). At that next meeting, she'll check to see if everyone has fulfilled their duties (if not, why not). The team will decide whether they need to adjust the action plan or stay the course based on the progress the student has made.
Here's a specific example: Melissa, a fourth grader, doesn't turn in homework assignments. Her teacher has discussed this matter with Melissa's parents at conferences but the problem persists. The team formulates an action plan in which each member has specific duties that are spelled out for them:
Melissa the Student—Write down all homework assignments in your notebook. Before leaving the classroom at the end of the day, double-check your backpack to make sure you have the necessary books and materials for the assignments. Get the telephone numbers of two friends to call in case you have any questions about the homework.
Parents—Find a place in the home where Melissa can work on homework for 45 minutes each evening after dinner. Make sure this work place is quiet, well-lit, free of distractions (no television, no cell phone), and has the materials she needs (binder paper, blue pens, dictionary, eraser, colored pencils, crayons). Sign her homework notebook after checking the completed work.
Teacher – Write the homework assignments on the board each day and give the class time to copy them. Make certain Melissa is writing down the assignments in her homework notebook. Set aside a place where students put their homework upon entering the classroom each morning.
Principal – At the end of the month, check to see if Melissa has turned in all homework assignments. If she has, acknowledge her improvement with a reward of some kind (certificate, trophy, special pencil, lunch with you).
The team meets in three months to discuss Melissa's progress and adjust the action plan, if needed.
Read More From Wehavekids
How a Student Study Team Can Help a Student
Every SST meeting I've attended has been successful, but none more so than the one for a second grader named Cameron. Cam was born in prison to a mother who had struggled for years with drugs and alcohol. She eventually lost her battle and died at the age of 32 with three children. Cam and his older brother, a teenager, went to live with their uncle while his baby sister went with grandma.
Cameron had attended our school since kindergarten, and we were all familiar with his story. We knew his uncle, a security guard, worked long hours, was rarely home, and was also caring for his elderly father. Cam's older brother was cutting school, having run-ins with the law, and heading down the wrong path. Although he wasn't an exemplary parent figure, the uncle was doing the best he could.
Many of us teachers went the extra mile to make Cam's life better – giving him a granola bar and yogurt in the morning if he hadn't eaten breakfast, assigning him special jobs in our classrooms after school so he didn't go home to an empty house, sharing books with him because there weren't any at home. But, these little acts of kindness were like giving a Band-Aid to someone who had just been knifed in the throat— thoughtful but not very useful. Cameron needed a concerted effort for his life to improve in a significant way.
Everyone who came in contact with Cameron fell in love with him instantly. Despite his difficult family circumstances, he was a delightful boy—always smiling, energetic, and engaging. Yet, he had many behaviors that made it extremely difficult to have him in class. He was easily distracted, very fidgety, and quite impulsive— walking around the room when he should sit, talking to kids when he should work quietly, and digging through his messy desk when he should have his materials ready. In teacher speak, Nicholas simply could not “stay on task.”
Although Cameron's SST meeting was 15 years ago, I remember it so intensely because I knew it was a game-changer. We were tackling big issues that would affect his life in ways both big and small. Here are some of the duties the members received:
Marci, Special Needs Director – Make appointment at Children's Hospital so a doctor can check Cameron for Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Assign one of the Special Needs teachers to “shadow” Cameron in his second grade classroom, helping him stay on task and observing/ documenting his behavior.
Uncle—Make sure Cameron eats breakfast before coming to school. Sign him up for after-school care so he doesn't go home to an empty house.
Teacher—Sit Cameron near a couple of students who model good behavior. Give the entire class some time on Friday afternoons to clean and organize the inside of their desks. Give Cam some classroom jobs that let him get up from his desk and move during the day—handing out papers, taking out the trash, erasing the board, taking things to the office.
Cameron, the Student—Put a tally mark on the chart each time you raise your hand before speaking. When you have 20 tally marks, go to the principal's office for a special treat. When playing basketball at recess, control your temper by counting to 20 instead of yelling at teammates.
The Principal —Invite Cameron to your office on Friday mornings to see how he's doing at school. Is he raising his hand before speaking? Is he keeping his desk organized? Is he getting along with kids on the playground? Give him a special treat if he has earned 20 tally marks on his chart.
By requesting a Student Study Team meeting for their child, parents are taking the first step toward real change. With a collaborative approach, positive results come quickly and easily with no one person feeling overwhelmed. Best of all, the child is a part of the process and sees how everyone is working together for her benefit.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on September 04, 2015:
Yes. Student Study Teams are extremely effective for bringing about positive change. It's important that the students are part of the process. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Rebecca Mixon from North Louisiana on September 02, 2015:
What a wonderful idea!