Are Student-Led Conferences Right for Your School?

Vol. 15 No. 9

academicleadership eletter Vol16 No9 studentled

Parent-teacher conferences are often cornerstones of schools’ parent communication strategies. Parents and teachers come together to discuss each student’s progress, identify areas that may need attention, and help families feel that their children are getting the best education possible.

But there is another format for conferences that your school might consider. Student-led conferences are growing in popularity. In this approach, students are responsible for preparing their work to show to their parents, and for explaining the grades they receive. Teachers and, often, advisors are present at the conference to answer questions and participate in the conversation. However, it is not their role to report on their impressions of the student’s grades, effort, or outcomes.

Student-led conferences can play a large role in a student-centered school mission and strategy. These meetings are an opportunity to involve each student in making curricular choices, truly illustrating his or her understanding of a topic, and reporting growth and deepened understanding to his or her parents.

If your school considers implementing student-led conferences, begin by having students put together a portfolio of their work. Each portfolio should contain the student’s work, the student’s responses or impressions to his or her work, teacher responses to the work, and the student’s reflections on his or her progress through the semester or term.

While the school determines what is necessary for each portfolio, it can include a combination of student-selected work, teacher-selected assignments (which are the same for all members of a given class), and assignments that show growth over time. Examples may include a term paper with notes and rough drafts, or a math project with notes and trials.

Advisors can play an active role in preparing students for student-led conferences. Dedicate advisor-student sessions to working on student portfolios. In this case, the advisor tracks each student as he or she works on the portfolio, making sure to include the appropriate assignments for each course. The advisor would also monitor each portfolio for required student responses and reflections.

Ensure students prepare for their conferences by rehearsing what they will say to their parents and practicing how they share the content of their portfolios. Advisors can provide support during the preparation period. Students should also have time to practice in small groups.

Student-led conferences help students understand that they are responsible for their own learning. These meetings also give students the chance to explain their progress in the presence of their parents and teachers—rather than the parent only hearing what the teacher has to say.

This approach may make sense for your school on its own or with traditional conferences. Consider whether student-led conferences fit with your school’s mission and whether they are right for your community.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 15 No. 6 Five Actions That Can Help Improve Student Engagement
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 15 No. 6 How You Can Help Your Teachers Become Remarkable Advisors

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