Cathy Whitehead

Third-grade teacher, West Chester Elementary School, Chester County Schools

In the beginning, parent-teacher conferences were not working for Cathy Whitehead, the 2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

“I would talk for hours, in 15-minute intervals with parents, about student work … and the prime player in the scene – the student – wasn’t even present!” she says.

Ms. Whitehead decided this was an opportunity lost. She began her career in education six years ago with the belief that a good education opens doors. As a teacher, she looked for ways to open those doors on a daily basis, teaching her students how to read, solve tough problems, collaborate with others, and communicate effectively, empowering them with the tools to take the lead with their education.

“No other profession lets you touch and change lives in such a profound way,” Ms. Whitehead says.

So last year, she decided it was time to change her parent-teacher conferences. She piloted student-led conferences, with unequivocal success. Students were taking ownership of their learning. They presented what they knew, explained test results, and fielded tough questions about their education.

“They absolutely floored me,” she admits.

Now, Cathy Whitehead’s parent-teacher conferences are student-parent-teacher conferences and she’s keeping it that way.

“I’ve learned the importance of, whenever possible, turning the reins over to the students,” she says.

Bio: Cathy Whitehead is a third-grade teacher at West Chester Elementary in Henderson.  She has served in multiple leadership positions in her district and regularly leads professional development for her peers. She was recognized as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys reading and running marathons – she’s completed five! She is on Twitter as @CathyWhitehead1.

The SCORE Sheet is the online conversation on public education reform in Tennessee and is hosted by SCORE. The blog mirrors SCORE’s collaborative nature and features contributors from Tennessee and across the country including students, parents, teachers, policymakers, community groups, and members of SCORE’s team. Regardless of perspective, contributors share a common goal: that every child graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce.

Posts on The SCORE Sheet are the opinions of the individual contributors and are not necessarily reflective of the opinions and positions of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).