Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions? Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement? Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week? Then consider shifting to student led conferences!
After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value. Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential. Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded. All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.
Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary. However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences.
Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.
- Hand out the “During Conference Checklist” students will use. With this, students should:
- Write down 2 items or areas of the classroom they want to share during the first part of conferences.
- Write down their current feelings about reading, writing, math, and behavior.
- Choose a writing and math sample. (I had my students keep their portfolios on blogs, so I gave them the option to present digital samples as well).
- Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences. Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
- Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
- Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards. Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound). I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
- Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
- Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
- Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work. I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
- Double-check the finalized goals.
- If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you. Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.). Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
- Go over the “During Conference” checklist together. Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Stage #4: Final Preparations
- Send letters home to parents from teacher and/or from students to prepare them for student-led conferences. If you want to provide questions in advance to help prepare parents, students, and yourself, check out our printable Student-Led Conferences Guided Questions list!
- Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards). Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Stage #5: After Conference Tips
- Have students fill out Student Post Reflection
- Make copies of student goals for teacher, parents, and student
Student and Parent Response
After each conference, I surveyed parents and students. Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.
- Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
- The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
- How professional they felt as they took the lead.
- How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
- Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
- How students explained their report cards themselves.
- The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
- Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class. This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
- Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
- Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence. Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
- Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference. However, very few parents completed the assignment. We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences. Some of the questions we asked included:
- What made you feel proud?
- Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve? If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
- How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?
List of Resources Linked Throughout:
- During Conference Student Checklist
- Data Sheet for Benchmarks
- Conference Folder Items List
- SMART Goal-Making Sheets
- Pre-Conference Note Home from Teacher
- Pre-Conference Note Home from Student
- Post Conference Student Reflection
- Example of Parent Homework
- Post: Guiding Questions for Parents, Students, & Teachers
Featured Image: Claire Burge