"Depending on their lifestyle and chosen extracurricular activities, a fifteen-minute student-led conference might be the most professional and formal event a young learner has ever been responsible for leading. That means there will obviously be nerves involved."
Inviting students to take an active role in parent-teacher conferences can be a powerful exercise for learners, educators and at-home support system members alike. Student-led conferences allow guardians to see their kids in a totally new context and gain a sense of how they work and perform as a professional learner.
With that said, it’s important to provide guidance and structure in any scenario where students are taking the wheel to ensure things stay focused and grounded. Here are some planning strategies for teachers and learners who are looking to have have meaningful parent-teacher conferences.
Anchor the Conversation with Goals or Competencies
Even a teacher-led conference can turn into a disorganized laundry list of anecdotes and insights if it’s not properly grounded. Student goals and competency targets provide the ultimate anchor to ensure that the conversation maintains focus on learning and achievement and doesn’t float away.
If students in your class set academic or personal goals at the beginning of the school year, those goals provide the perfect jumping-off point for a meaningful conversation about progress. Have students review their goals in preparation for conference time, and make sure each learner is able to articulate what their goals are, why they’re important, and where they are in their journey toward each one.
For classrooms that embrace the competency-based learning model, identified grade-level competencies can serve as strong anchor points as well. Going into their student-led conference, each learner should understand their main goals for the class or year, their proficiency levels in the moment and what they’ll be focusing on moving forward.
If you’re concerned your students will not be able to synthesize these insights when conference time comes, have them craft a short written reflection on their progress toward each of their main goals or learning competencies. Then, at conference time, those reflections can be read to or shared with stakeholders from home.
Prepare a Different Learning Artifact for Each Point
No insight or point that’s made during a parent-teacher conference should be left unsupported. That’s why part of planning for a student-led conference should be gathering and reflecting upon the right learning artifacts ahead of time. Learning artifacts could take the form of corrected assignments, projects, reflections, digital documents stored in an LMS or any other way that shows how student work, think, and gameplan with educators.
Once students have chosen the goals or anchor competencies that they’ll use to guide their conference, their next job should be to gather learning artifacts to illustrate the conversation they want to have about their work and progress. This process will be much easier if your classroom uses some sort of portfolio or LMS system to house and maintain examples of student work.
Once those crucial artifacts have been selected, students should plan for how they’ll introduce them into the conversation and what they want their parents or guardians to know about the work. Students should think about what that artifacts says about their progress toward goals or competency targets: What have they already mastered? What skills have they improved? Where is there work left to do, and what resources will help them improve in those ways?
Practice with Peers and Professionals
Depending on their lifestyle and chosen extracurricular activities, a fifteen-minute student-led conference might be the most professional and formal event a young learner has ever been responsible for leading. That means there will obviously be nerves involved, and one of the educator’s key jobs leading into student-led conference day is to ensure that everybody has gotten enough practice to feel confident and lead an effective meeting.
Once students have decided what main points they’ll focus the conference on and which materials or artifacts they’ll use to illustrate those points, the next step is to build in some practice. Have students partner up with peers that they’re comfortable with and encourage them to practice presenting their conference to each other. Remember, there may be some important, honest academic or personal disclosures in these conferences, so it’s crucial that students prepare to present them in an environment and with an audience that makes them feel comfortable and supported.
If scheduling allows, it’s also ideal for students to have opportunities to practice their conference with adults after they’ve eliminated some of that uncomfortable new-ness by rehearsing with peers. Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators looking for a window into what conference day will look like make the perfect audience for these practice sessions, as everybody involved is equipped with the correct lenses to provide support, feedback, and guidance as needed. Just like sports, dance or any other pursuit, the more high-quality practice learners get ahead of time, the more likely they are to succeed on their big day!