Roles Flipped: Students Lead Parent Teacher Conferences

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By: Robin Scott, Principal, Stafford Middle School

 

Stafford Middle School has used the student-led conference model since its opening year as part of our focus on developing the whole child.  We strive to have students assume responsibility for their academic performance and encourage them to actively describe what has caused their success (or lack thereof) in class.  Having students lead the discussion on conference day also develops important interpersonal skills, building their confidence when speaking to adults.  We truly feel that students take a proactive role in their own success when they lead the discussion with parents and teachers, and parents respond positively to their students’ leadership in the conversation.  Instead of directing questions to the teacher, parents will ask their children what is going well or badly, and this encourages similar conversations to occur at home.  While students are actively participating in the conference, they are usually honest about their behaviors that contribute to or take away from their success in class, academically and socially; often they are more forthright than a teacher could be, going as far as admitting which students in class cause them to be distracted, etc.  The student’s perspective can be helpful to teachers, also, because they will openly reveal what makes them feel confident or confused within a particular classroom, and these are intangible insights educators cannot always gain from observation or assessment.  Teachers, who would otherwise be the primary talkers in such conferences, are able to hear how a student genuinely feels about their classroom environment and curriculum in a non-threatening environment, and listening leads to learning.  When teachers pay attention to a student’s honest input, adjustments and plans can be made to further the student’s future success.

The typical set-up of student-led conferences involves preparation ahead of time, primarily on the part of the students whose parents have signed up for conferences.  First, an email is sent to every parent, inviting them to sign up for a conference using an online sign-up program.  In addition, cross-curricular grade-level teams of teachers make contact with parents of students they feel should be in attendance.  Next, the parents who have signed up are sent information about how these conferences work, since they may not be familiar with the concept.  This information includes goal sheets for the students to fill out, and even a video demonstration that was created by our staff.  Hopefully, parents will have the students fill out the goal sheets for each class prior to conference day, and they will watch the video to see how it all works.  When the family arrives on conference day, they are sent to the designated grade-level area, where there are multiple tables set up and the core teachers are waiting.  Students sign in and go to a table, where there are usually laptops waiting, ready for the student to access our online grade system (Home Access Center, or HAC), just in case they didn’t get to fill out the goal sheets with accurate grades.  The laptops can also provide an opportunity to show students and parents how to access online resources such as HAC, the Student Learning Hub (where class information and assignments are often posted), and Google Apps.  As teachers observe a student of theirs entering, they will go to the table and sit, and then students are encouraged to start the conversation by going over the goal sheet for that class.  This sheet indicates the most recent grade, what challenged the student most so far, and a checklist of behaviors that have contributed to the student’s success (or lack thereof) this year. It also allows students to share a letter-grade goal they want to maintain, and there is another checklist of behaviors they plan to use that will help them achieve that goal.  After going through the information, the teacher might point out any discrepancies or areas of concern, but usually in the form of questions directed to the student for answers.  In the end, the teacher will typically ask the parents if they have any additional questions or concerns, and often these are directed to the student as well.  As each teacher finishes communicating with the family, s/he will get up from the table, signaling another of the student’s teachers to fill in and continue the process until all of the teachers have had an opportunity to speak with the family.  At Stafford, we also have designated areas where elective teachers can participate in conferences with the students, too.

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