A few years ago, after reading research about student reflections and goal setting, myself and a few teachers presented our findings to our administrator and proposed the idea of incorporating student-led conferences to our typical parent-teacher conference time. The number one driving reason behind some of our fifth and sixth-grade teachers trying this was to assist with the culture of ownership we were trying to build in our classrooms with our scholars. Our administrator gave his blessing and we notified parents. It must be said at this point that for some of our students we scheduled a student-led conference and a parent-teacher only conference given some specific concerns and needs. If you are new to the idea of incorporating your students into parent-teacher conferences, this will be something to consider.
The first year: During the first year, I notified students about this change to conferences and then sent a letter home electronically and via paper. Students were most excited about this idea but very nervous about how they would actually take on this task. I was clearly nieve to this task as we reviewed in class an agenda for the conference, how much time to spend on each, and I even found an awesome student reflection survey where students rated themselves on about fifty different statements. Fifty, I know I am still looking back on this thinking if I lost my mind, or had just forgotten about what was developmentally appropriate for my fifth graders, or a bit of both, either way, I regretted this idea and got rid of the survey after year one.
Over the past few years, I have modified the timing of the conferences, for example in my second year of student-parent-teacher conferences I held them over a few weeks, allowing thirty minutes to an hour for each student. Honestly, this wasn’t necessary for most students and given that I was doing it until late in the night in the Fall when the sun set early, this idea, had some unforeseen consequences such as learning that year that the lights for the school were no longer coming on at night and walking parents out to dark parking lots.
After years of these conferences, I have learned that fifteen (the typical for my school) to thirty minutes is ideal. I’ve come to be able to better predict what conferences need to be longer based on the prep I do with my students. I have also offered two nights instead of just one that is typical for my school. I’ve tried to remove as many barriers to conferences, such as conflicts with work schedules, to make it easier for my families to attend. I recognize it is by no way a perfect fit for families, but if I can minimize the time lost or help the schedule so a parent only has to leave a little early from work as opposed to taking off the whole afternoon, I’ll try to do that.
If you are considering student-led parent-teacher conferences here are some other ideas to consider:
- How will your student join you? Will parents need to go home to get their child first, if so, account for that with time.
- What students may need more time for a conference and/or are there any conferences that need to be just parent-teacher?
- How will you plan for students to prepare for these conferences?
- What types of reflection tools will you use to assist students with the preparation for the conference?
- How do you need to organize paperwork to demonstrate student growth at the conference? Who will put that together?
- What is your goal/reasoning behind the time set for these conferences?
In next month’s post, I will discuss more the benefits and some of the ways I structure my student-led conferences as you consider adding this valuable tool to your class.