I teach fourth grade. In the past, I've taught fifth grade (9 years), second grade (5 years), third grade (5 years). I worked for one year as a math specialist. This will be my fifth year in fourth grade. In my opinion, every year, no matter what grade you teach or how much experience you have, is the perfect year to try something new. One of the new things I tried this year was student-led conferences. I promise, not everything I take on in the classroom is a success. There are PLENTY of flops. I also promise that I'll write about the flops too. However, student-led conferences were a giant success. However, the success does not belong to me. It is a credit to my students and the families who were willing to take this risk and trust me a little.
This year, conferences were offered in both November and March and student-led conferences were available during both months. I really do believe in the power of choice so for that reason, I gave families the choice of a traditional conference, a student-led conference, or a hybrid model. I emailed the parents to communicate that there would be some choice in conference model this year. I did not truly push the student-led with the parents. I kind of pushed it with the students though. I may have said, "Have you ever asked your parent(s) what was said at your parent-teacher conference only to feel like they weren't telling you the WHOLE story?" Lots of cute little heads nodded in the affirmative. I followed up with, "What would you think if I told you that this year could be different? What if you were allowed to attend this year? Heck, what if you could attend AND you could decide what will be shared with your parents and what won't be shared?" Most kids were totally thrilled with the prospect of attending. I was professional enough to tell them that the choice was a family choice and that they should talk to their parents about it at home and make the best choice for their families. Then, I scheduled a few student-led conferences early on. I asked the students to share their experiences with the class. They were overwhelmingly positive. Even the quietest of students began to consider a student-led conference.
There was definitely some prep involved for me but most of the preparation fell on the students' shoulders. I prepared a reflection sheet so that the kids would be prepared to speak to the wide variety of topics that I generally cover in a conference. I also coached the students around evidence collection. We use SeeSaw in the classroom in addition to physical portfolios so evidence was fairly easy for the kids to collect.
The conferences were scheduled to last 30 minutes each although some went a bit longer. I was blown away by how successful the students were. They kind of used their reflection sheets although once they got warmed up most just spoke from the heart and simply used the sheet to make sure they were covering all the topics. Parents were 100% engaged with their child and asked questions of him/her throughout the conference. For the most part, I was an observer. I would certainly bale a nervous child out by providing an occasional example or short story to support the point the student was making. This was seldom necessary though. Mostly, I was silent, smiled, and nodded my head a lot.
What I liked most about the conference was the student ownership and pride. I also loved that the conferences were honest. They had to be with the student at the table. I couldn't BS the parents about what was going on in the classroom and the parents had to play it straight when it came to what was (or wasn't) going on at home too.
So, these conferences probably caused me to spend less time prepping the meeting and the parents got more out of the conference. The student got to call the shots and he or she walked away knowing that there was trust at school and home and that we were a team working to help the student achieve his or her goals. Even more parents (nearly all - 20 out of 22) opted for the student-led conference in March. As you might imagine, they were even better! Any risk we can take or change in practice we can make in the interest of giving our students greater agency is worth it.