For years, parent-teacher conferences have been used as a primary means of communicating a student’s progress. But, recently many schools across the nation have begun to see positive results from holding student-led conferences, where the student takes an active role in communicating his or her own progress to the parents.
Recently, Shelby County Schools began a new instructional initiative to increase the number of student-led conferences across the district’s 31 schools. According to Dr. Lynn Cook, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, the district is encouraging schools to hold student-led conferences as part of the assessment process – particularly in helping students learn to self-assess their own progress. Student-led conferences also tie together instruction and family engagement by opening lines of communication between home and school.
“Student-led conferences provide a forum for students to develop their communication, leadership, and organizational skills while taking ownership of their learning,” Dr. Cook said. “The focus is not only on academic skills but also on vital soft skills, which will help to ensure that our students are prepared upon graduation and are college and career ready.”
Vincent Elementary and Oak Mountain Elementary are using student-led conferences at their schools. Both schools have been featured in recent administrative meetings where district leaders trained principals on effective strategies for student-led conferences. At back-to-school administrative meetings, held July 28-29, principals and assistant principals watched a video of an impressive student-led conference from Vincent Elementary. Then on September 29-30, administrators had the opportunity to see a student-led conference first-hand thanks to Oak Mountain Elementary teacher Sara Askew and her student, Brennan Ries, who led a conference for his mother, Megan Ries.
As a room full of elementary principals watched, Brennan calmly and skillfully led his own conference – highlighting areas of strength and other areas of improvement. He and his mother discussed various ways they could work together at home to set goals to focus on areas where he feels he needs to improve, not only in academics but also with personal goals he has established for himself.
Secondary administrators heard benefits of student-led Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings from teacher Marisol Lilly from Shelby County High School and Special Education Program Area Specialist, Carla Layton.
Oak Mountain Elementary Principal Debbie Horton said feedback from parents, students and teachers has all been positive.
“Parents have been amazed by the way their child communicates so deeply their understanding of goal setting, what steps to take to accomplish a goal and how to preserve when things get hard,” Horton said. “Students feel a sense of empowerment because school is now something they have a say in. They are working with the teacher and their parents to set goals, develop strategies to meet the goals and then celebrate with teachers and parents the successes they have along the way.”
Horton said another benefit of student-led conferences is that students are now part of understanding and applying data. Teachers have always used data to drive classroom instruction, but now students are able to use the same data to understand where they are and where they want to go.
“Students like that they get to be the teacher and lead the conference with their parents,” Horton said. “The teacher takes notes and the parent asks questions. Student-led conferences are the epitome of all stakeholders working together to help the student be the leader of their own learning.”
Horton said there is a lot of time, effort, and energy that goes into getting students ready to lead a conference. Students have to be taught how to organize their data, use it to create goals, and track it to inform them of their progress. Teachers also work with students to practice sharing the data in a conference setting with parents. However, Horton said her teachers think the hard work is worth it because of how empowered the students become in their own learning.
“The process is so beneficial because students become empowered to see their strengths and areas that need more attention and focus,” Horton continued. “What an important life-skill to learn at such a young age.”
Kathleen Latham, a teacher at Vincent Elementary School, began using student-led conferences with a small group of students three years ago. Two years ago, she started completing student-led conferences with her whole class at least once per year.
“Every parent I talked to over the years has been very positive about the process of student-led conferences. They enjoy hearing their child discuss his or her progress in the classroom,” Latham said.
“The students often get shy when their parents are there, but open up once the conference gets started,” Latham added. “They love showing their parents how they’ve been doing in class and discussing their goals with their parents.”
Latham said she personally loves student-led conferences because it helps her students take control of their learning.
“They take ownership in their learning when they discuss it with their parents,” she said. “I also think it makes them feel important and loved that someone would take time out of their day to hear about their learning.”