Since the early 2000s, student-led conferences have been making inroads into the traditional parent/teacher conference scene. The Hechinger Report published a four-part series about reform efforts in high school by focusing on this very topic. Even though I facilitated professional learning that supported teachers in implementing this practice in their classrooms, neither of my daughters had an opportunity to do this. Pretty ironic, don’t you think? That said, I now realize I could have asked their teachers to let them lead or be a part of our conference conversations. Let me give you some ideas about how to do that for you and your child, just in case you are in a school where these conferences do not occur.
Why Students Should Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Monica Martinez wrote,
“Parent-teacher conferences were a good idea in concept, but they reflect a tradition that is too centered on adults. Flipping these conferences to be student-led empowers the student and facilitates a partnership between the teacher and parents that is focused on supporting what the student identifies as her strengths and challenges in learning, not what the teacher or parent identifies for the student.”
It means that we are allowing our students the time and forum to activate themselves as owners of their learning. “
What do you think? What if the conversation became more about student learning, and student strengths and needs, and less about explaining or defending grades? What if we, as parents, worked in conjunction with the teacher to help our student build themselves into a self-directed learner? This means that we are working to help our learner set goals, take charge of their learning and assignments, do some self assessment and reflection, and ask questions that take them deeper in their learning. It means that we are allowing our students the time and forum to activate themselves as owners of their learning.
Consider the fact that if our learners are reflecting on what they want to share with us about themselves as learners, they will be strengthening their communication skills and their organizational skills. This reflection, self assessment, and organization will be leading them to develop complex thinking skills and work on their metacognition, which are skills that helps children learn, as well as contribute to life outside of the K-12 environment.
Approaching the Teacher Regarding Student-Led Conferences
Maybe some (or all) of this sounds like something that interests you, a potentially new and different partnership with both your child’s teacher and your learner. What can you, as a parent, do about it?
- First, inquire as to whether having student-led conferences is something that happens at your child’s school or with your child’s teacher. If so, great. If not, ask if it might be possible.
- Second, be prepared to say why you are asking—what benefits you see to this change in conference format.
- Third, talk with your child about the idea. Gather his or her thoughts and feelings to help you plan what to share with the teacher.
- Fourth, shift your thinking to how you might become a partner in your child’s learning with this approach… both to the teacher and your learner.
Building Learner Agency
What is learner agency? It is learners having the power to act. What better way to act than to reflect on their learning and where they are in relation to their goals, make plans about how to get where they need or want to be, and be able to talk it through with caring adults. As a teacher, one way to get started might be the idea of letting students lead conferences with their parents. If this idea is new to your school, you could offer parents and students a choice of a parent-teacher conference or a student-led conference. For those to whom the concept might be new, here are nine ideas you might share.
- Communicate with learners about the format change.
- Help students organize their work to share. Provide guidelines about how many pieces and why a piece might be shared.
- What would you like to see as the learner?
- What would your parents like to see?
- What would your teachers like to see?
- Communicate with parents about the change in conference format.
- Set expectations, facilitate learner reflection, and practice.
- Preparation and practice will be important for this to be successful.
- Provide a script or talking points to support students. This is something that might even be modeled in class.
- Thank your parents for coming and showing interest.
- Introduce parents to teacher.
- Ask parents to hold their questions till the end. Offer them a notecard just in case they want to make notes.
- Pick a subject/subjects to focus on during the conference.
- Explain what you have been doing in that particular subject.
- Explain why you chose the work to share that you did.
- State your goal in this subject.
- Talk about what you enjoyed this quarter.
- Share what you were most successful with and why.
- Explain what you need to work on and why.
- Ask if there are questions.
- Thank your parents for coming.
- Debrief the experience with students. Have them talk about the pluses and deltas.
- What did you like about learner-led conferences?
- How did you feel during the conference?
- What didn’t you like about the conference?
- If you could change the conference to make it better, what would you do?
- Celebrate the effort.
- Make plans for the next time.
Teachers might also consider surveying parents about their thoughts and feeling regarding the experience of a conference led by their learner. You don’t have to give up your parent time with teachers. Just consider making that a separate appointment or use another method of communication for that conversation. One of the potential after-effects might include an increase in learner-parent communication with an extra benefit that conversation is focused on academics rather than how the day was. Just imagine how your family meeting conversation might change.
April 1996 | Volume 53 | Number 7 Working Constructively with Families Pages 64-68 When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences Lyn Le Countryman and Merrie Schroeder
http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin112.shtml – Student-led conferences: A growing trend
Student-Led Conferences: Empowerment and Ownership Putting students in the driver’s seat of their parent-teacher conferences creates opportunities for reflection, engagement, and agency. August 24, 2015 http://www.edutopia.org/practice/student-led-conferences-empowerment-and-ownership
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/06/01/should-students-lead-parent-teacher-conferences/let-the-students-lead-the-parent-teacher-conference Let the Students Lead the Parent-Teacher Conference Monica R Martinez