For years, every October my school has set aside 10 hours over the course of two days for parent conferences. If I'm being candid, it's usually been a frustrating experience for parents. No appointments are made; the experience is first come, first served. Often, parents show up to classrooms and wait outside for an opportunity to talk with teachers. If each conference takes somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, some parents can end up waiting for upwards of 40 minutes.
This year, my team partner and I decided to try student-led conferences as a way to alleviate the congestion, empower our kiddos to take ownership over their academics, and promote personal reflection. This type of conferencing has never been part of our school culture, and we're sort of swimming against the grain by changing up our procedures. However, after experiencing student-led conferences today, I am confident that we made the right decision!
To prepare for student-led conferences, students reflected on their performance in the four core subject areas. The reflection document was pushed out to students via Google Classroom and included questions about grades, positive behaviors, areas that might need work, and goals for the rest of the trimester.
We realized that students would need to be explicitly taught how to conduct a conference with their parents. I created a Google Slide with procedures in English and Spanish, and for the two days preceding conferences, we went over the sharing sequence. Students identified work samples they were proud to share with their parents. I was thrilled that many students chose to include the digital stories they made about hunter-gatherers.
Because student-led conferences are new to parents, I recorded a short video to play on a loop right outside the classroom door. My team partner made a sign in sheet so we could follow up with parents who attended, and some signage completed the set up.
Now, as we sit here at the end of Day 1 of conferences, I am so happy to have been brave enough to try something new. I had some really incredible conversations with parents, but this time they didn't revolve around grades. Today, our conversations focused on celebrating growth, positive changes parents saw in some of their kiddos, and updates on former students. One of the families I visited with proudly showed me a copy of their oldest daughter's progress report. She is in high school now, but I had her as a student for three years in middle school. Her progress report showed that she is academically ranked #3 out of 491 students in her grade level! Mom was so proud and teared up a little when she showed me the paper. I'm so glad to have this former student's little sister in my class this year; I love that this family and I can continue to grow our connection.
One of the most interesting effects of student-led conferences is that some families didn't even need to speak with me, because their student did such a great job covering the bases. Beyond a greeting and a "thank you" as they left, many parents and kids were happy to have had dedicated time to talk together about how things are going at school. The kids were shining because I told them to remember to brag about themselves and the awesome job they're doing.
For the students who are struggling, I was able to have productive conversations with their families about how we could work together to support the students who need it most.
The biggest change was that that I never felt overwhelmed. My team partner and I are used to fluttering around, busily leap-frogging from one table to another in order to talk to as many families as possible, while fielding irritated sighs at the wait time. Today our experience was entirely different, and I find that I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Have you ever held student-led conferences? How was your experience? What resources did you find helpful?
Author: Jessica Pack
California Teacher of the Year. CUE Outstanding Educator 2015. DIGICOM Learning Teacher Consultant. 6th Grade Teacher. Passionate about gamification, Minecraft, digital story-telling, and fostering student voices.