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Let students lead: The new parent-teacher conference

Parent-teacher conferences. They happen every year like clockwork.

But do you sometimes get the sense that staff and parents are simply going through the motions when it comes to these yearly check-ins? Are your parent meetings actually having an impact? Will they bring about meaningful change for your staff, your parents, your students?

If you’re not getting the answers you want to these questions, it’s time to rethink how your teachers conduct one-on-one meetings with parents. In fact, maybe these meetings shouldn’t be one-on-one at all.

As more teachers explore the benefits of personalized, student-led learning in class, they’re also considering how to engage students in other aspects of their education, such as in classroom and teacher evaluations.

In some cases, schools are scrapping the traditional parent-teacher model in favor of one that includes students—and actually lets them lead these conversations.

As Jered Pennington, principal at Amy Beverland Elementary in Indiana told EdSurge for a story recently, “Student-led conferences provide a platform for students to serve as equal partners in the educational conversation” and let them “have a sound understanding of perceived strengths, challenges, qualitative/quantitative data, and desired learning goals.”

So what does a student-led conference look like?

Start with good prep
Writing for Ed Surge, Mitch Mosbey, a first grade teacher who uses student-led conferences in his classroom, says progress check-ins shouldn’t be a one-off phenomenon. Instead, students and teachers need to actively monitor and discuss academic progress and goals throughout the year.

Mosbey suggests assigning a binder or portfolio in which students can store data that helps every party assess their progress, including projects and tests.

Students can be given as much leeway as educators want to give them on managing their progress binders. In some cases, the binder might also serve as a journal in which students can jot notes on achievements they’ve made or challenges they’ve faced. The binder also represents a safe place for students to record goals and hold themselves accountable over time.

Conference day
While it may seem like a big change, student-led conferences actually don’t have to change the structure of conference day at all.

Mosbey says his school still follows a standard 15-20 minute meeting format.

The only difference? Students do the bulk of the talking, instead of teachers.

Students share their work binder with parents and teachers to demonstrate the progress they’ve made. They then share their goals.

Writes Mosbey: “One of the most powerful moments is when students share their goals with family members. When a student is telling an adult how they want to be a better student, it is much more powerful than hearing it from their teacher.”

In this format, teachers are simply there to guide the conversation, to support the student, and to answer any questions parents may have.

Keep it going
Let’s be honest: one annual 20-minute meeting isn’t going to change very much.

Instead of one-off meetings, Mosbey suggests at least one additional conference with parents before the end of each school year, where students can set goals for the following year.

In addition, he says, student check-ins shouldn’t be limited to formal meetings. Educators should be engaged in a constant dialogue with students about their goals, whether they’re meeting them, and what they can do to improve.

The idea of student-led learning doesn’t mean students are left on their own. Educators need to support students and encourage them to stay on track. This dynamic needs to continue throughout the entire school year, from the first day of school to the first day of summer break.

What approach does your school take to annual conferences? Do you let your students set their own goals? Do you empower them to assess their own progress? Tell us in the comments.

Want to give students and parents a safe and easy way to discuss their goals and progress with you online? Here’s a few solutions that can help you amplify the student voice.