- Students feel empowered as they share their goals, learning, and growth in all different areas of the curriculum.
- You can include voice and choice in student-led conferences.
- Being intentional about what you do before, during, and after conferences leads to finding success in the goals for the conferences.
- A link to resources can be found below for a notice home, welcome note, agenda, reflection sheet, tagging sheets, and “two stars and a wish.”
Give the gift of opportunity with guidance and scaffolding, and students will take it and run with it! Ever since I started teaching in 1999, it was common practice for schools in our district to give students opportunities to lead their own learning conferences to share their work across the curriculum with parents or guardians. These occur typically in the spring when they have accumulated a good amount of evidence to demonstrate learning over time.
Each year since then, I have had the opportunity to tweak and hone what the conferences look like.
Information to Parents
Since Student-Led Conferences are a school-wide event, a notice is sent home to families outlining what these are and what to expect, including sample questions they can ask their child during the conference. They are instructed to maintain a positive learning experience, one where they are encouraged to be curious about their child’s learning journey rather than critical. This strength-based approach supports continued learning after the conference.
This same notice has choices for time frames for the night. Families can indicate their first and second choice time slots (by hour). The names of siblings are recorded on this as well so when we sit down as a staff for scheduling, parents aren’t double-booked and expected to be in two places at the same time! Once confirmed, an invitation by students is sent to parents. An alternative way is to leave the time frame open but recognize there is less clarity as to when families will be there.
Student Empowered Conferences: Empowerment from the Beginning
In order for these Student-Led Conferences to truly be student-led, it is necessary to hear from them what they feel proud to share. They are guided to consider a mix of personal learning experiences along with whole-class learning. Different spaces in our classroom and hallway displays are considered too.
First, they jot down a few ideas. Then they share the ideas with a partner. Next, partners share with another set of partners. Finally, we spend time as a class recording our brainstorm of ideas. This is where the agenda of what to show parents is pulled from.
Student Empowered Conferences: Offering Voice and Choice
Taking the ideas from students, an agenda is created. I typically taught grade 2/3’s so I created it for them to follow. What we want to show parents is intentionally chosen. For example, their writing books would have many different entries. We spend time looking through to carefully decide and tag. They choose three samples of writing they are very proud of that show strengths or growth. They need to state the reason why they chose this page as well. These are placed as bookmarks in their writing books. Writing prepared – check!
For math, we do a similar thing where they choose a couple of pieces of learning they are proud of. Often, these are the learning journal digital books created in Book Creator on our iPads. Because many of the concepts we learn in math are learned through play, students are asked to play a game or to compete against their parents. It is so much fun to see the competition between them!
Since we often had a few sets of parents in the room at the same time, we have played the Kahoot! game to showcase our learning in science. Children either played against their parents and other classmates or they played with their parents against other parent-child teams. They thought this was very interactive and a lot of fun!
Student Empowered Conferences: Practice Leads to Empowerment
Two days before the conferences, all of our items to show parents are placed in the order of the agenda. Once it’s all ready, part of the conference is modeled and then we practice with a partner! Their partner acts as their parent. Depending on the age of students, we may practice this twice before the big day.
Another way to include students is to invite them to create Welcome signs for doors and classroom spaces.
Student Empowered Conferences: The Big Day is Here!
Schools typically have an early dismissal at 2 pm. I like to have soft music playing in the background to help with the ambiance. When they enter, the first thing on their agenda is to introduce their parents to me. They usually find this exercise awkward but it’s such great practice to formally introduce others. I love this part because I know it is generally out of their comfort zone, in their stretch zone, and growing!
Next, they bring parents to our refreshments as they are the hosts of our special event. I like to have water, punch, coffee/tea, plus a sweet and savory snack for variety. Not everyone likes sweets. My students really seemed to show extra excitement when they learned that the cookies were made from scratch by me!
Then, they guide them over to gather their items to show their parents and off they go!
Even though we have an agenda, they do not have to follow it to the tee. If they feel like checking out the room first as they enjoy refreshments, they can! However, most students do tend to follow it as least in the beginning. It’s when they get further along on the agenda that I see students going with more flexibility.
We know there is talk about how to make learning visible. A lot of personal and group learning happens on the carpet, for example. So, I would have signs around the room that says, “Invisible Learning” with descriptions of the kind of rich learning that happens there but is not necessarily reflected in their child’s portfolio.
Student Empowered Conferences: Finish Strong
Being intentional about what you do before, during, and after Student-Led Conferences leads to finding success in the goals for the conferences. So, it is important to finish off strong!
Right on the agenda may be a reminder to parents to be positive and to focus on strengths.
I have tried different things in the past. I may have a sheet where parents filled out “two stars and a wish.” I’ve also had an optional Guest Book that parents filled out before they left. This was one of my most favorite things to read. I think I still have mine from decades ago in storage because their words were such gifts. My students always loved this last part because they were relieved they were done and I told them that this part was like giving our parents homework to complete before they left the school. During this time, we’d often chit chat or if other classmates were also done, they would enjoy socializing while usually enjoying another cookie!
I always asked students to guide their parents to say goodbye to me.
This teaches them proper etiquette. When we leave spaces where there was a host (even though they were co-hosts too), they show gratitude first. This gives a clear sense of closure for the night and it gives me one more opportunity to connect with parents and offer some kind and genuine words about their child. It’s a great way to end, leaving on a positive note!
Wait. We are not quite done just yet! The next day, we reflect. We review what our parents wrote to us, what we liked and didn’t like, our strengths and stretches, and what we could do differently to make it better next time, if there were a next time. We dive into what we learned about ourselves too. The feedback is informative and helps me tweak future conferences. Students feel empowered to share their voice and feel they have made a difference for future students of Ms. Chan!
Student Empowered Conferences: Resources
Here are some resources that you may find useful. Click here for a PDF document that includes:
- Welcome note to parents with suggested guidelines on how to make their conference successful
- Sample of my agenda
- Reflections on My Goals
- I chose this writing because I want you to notice…
- Two Stars and a Wish sheet samples
If you’d like a Word doc sent to you, have any questions, or just want to talk shop about Parent-Teacher or Student-Led Conferences or anything else, please feel free to reach out! DM me at @LiviaChanL or email at Livia@teachbetter.com. Looking forward to connecting!