Parent-teacher conferences have long been a staple of school calendars. Lately though, some school districts have added an extra element to these traditionally adult-only events: students. Many schools, particularly middle schools, are reporting more effective conferences since switching their format to student-led conferences. Proponents of student-led conferences insist that they offer an excellent opportunity for schools and parents to emphasize student accountability. Parents have also reported a deeper understanding of their children’s school experience.
While the exact format of student-led conferences varies from school to school (and probably from classroom to classroom), Education World reports that conferences should be based around the student’s presentation of recent school work, often in a portfolio format. Parents are encouraged to ask their student direct questions about their successes and struggles. Parents, teachers and students discuss the positive habits that helped students earn high grades, or what contributed to a low grade. Based on the conversation, goals for each student should be set by the end of the conference. Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I was a fairly average student. While I wasn’t very concerned with impressing my teachers, my parents’ opinions were important to me. In my case, I think sitting down face-to-face with my parents and teacher to set specific goals would have had a positive impact on my motivation and academic expectations for myself.
Teachers who have experience with student-led conferences agree that preparation is the key to success. Here’s a list of suggestions from NEA Today (Nov. 2004, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p. 37) to help teachers prepare for student-led conferences:
1) Prepare students: Take ample time to explain the process to students and model their role for them. Ask students to practice introducing their parents to you.
2) Prepare parents: Invite them with a letter that explains the conference’s format and why it is important for them, as well as their child, to attend.
3) Prepare yourself: Have a good handle on how each student is doing. Student work should be ready for presentation before parents and students arrive. Anticipate issues that might arise between students and parents.
4) Prepare the environment: Create a friendly, relaxed environment for the conference.
5) Emphasize the positive: Throughout the student’s presentation, encourage them with positive input when possible. On the other hand, be prepared to defuse any negative situations that may arise.
6) Be part of the process: Students and parents want teacher input and suggestions, but be careful not to take over. The student should do most of the talking.
Do you have any experience with student-led conferences? Do you think student-led conferences are an improvement over traditional parent-teacher conferences? Please share your thoughts below.