Pulldown Menu
Krista Gypton, Community Partnership Coordinator at City High School, on student-led conferences.

My daughter Morgan is 11 and in 6th grade. As she sits next to me and her dad on the pony wall outside her classroom, she nervously bounces her legs up and down. Her teacher, Jana, opens the door and welcomes us into the room and guides us to a set of desks that are set up in a circle. Then, with a smile from Jana to Morgan, our “parent-teacher conference” begins.

Student Led Conference
Daniel, a student at Paulo Freire Middle School, leads a conference about his learning.

Morgan confidently walks over to a file cabinet, gets out a folder and sets the table in front of us. She stands next to the desk, looks each of us in the eyes and says, “Mom, Dad and Jana, welcome to my conference and thank you for being here.” Something inside of me swells with nervous excitement as I watch my daughter guide us through her very first student-led conference. She tells us about her favorite assignments and what she loved about them. And, she explain why she failed a test and how hard she worked to study. She beams as she shows us the perfect score she got on the retake. Then, as she shyly shares a drawing she completed in art class and asks us if we have any questions for her, I watch in awe as my 11-year-old daughter runs her own conference. Clearly, Morgan is in charge of her own learning.

What parent or teacher doesn’t want this for their kids?

When I used to hear the words “parent-teacher conference” both the teacher and the parent sides of me would instantly groan. As a parent, I appreciated the effort Morgan’s teachers put into making sure I knew as much as I could in 15 minutes about Morgan’s academic achievement, while generally expecting this conference to be a monologue from a well-meaning educator to review test scores I couldn’t care less about and tell me how my daughter (who wouldn’t typically be in the room) talks too much, but is very sweet.  As a teacher, I looked forward to the opportunity to meet my students’ families, yet I also knew that I would be just on the other side of the table in the same “well-meaning” conversation that never really seems to get us anywhere. Knowing how much planning schools and families put into scheduling these meetings, I longed for a way to make this time matter.

What if conferences were different?  

Working for a City High School, one of three schools that are part of CITY Center for Collaborative Learning’s mission, we routinely question the status quo of educational practice. We began by asking important questions: Who is really benefiting from the traditional parent-teacher conference experience? What responsibility could students take in all of this? Where’s the learning and reflection? What if, with the support of an advisor, students took charge of the conference? What if it were a time to celebrate learning and growth? What if it ended with everyone in the room providing authentic appreciation to the student for their hard work and willingness to own and discuss where they still have much to learn?

Our answers to these questions led to our school adopted student-led conferences as our primary way of conferring with families.

Now as an Advisor I have the amazing opportunity to guide students through a reflective process where they look at all their coursework, pull together some of their favorite assignments, reflect on what they learned and be ready to share that with their families. Organized around the Habits of Heart and Mind (action, perspective, inquiry, evidence, expression, and care), students are expected to choose assignments that are examplars of each habit.   And, students are also expected to reflect on where the fell short of goals they had set. Students will share in their own voice how they struggle when they didn’t do what they needed to do, and when they just didn’t do at all.

All three CITY Center for Collaborative Learning schools conduct student-led conferences, and although it’s easier to conduct conferences this way in a system where student-led conferences are the norm, getting started is simple.

  1. Early in the semester, work with the students to create categories you all agree are important. These are what they will choose artifacts (assignments) from to share.
  2. A month before conferences, provide students with a variety of reflection tools to help them select and reflect on their work.
  3. The day before the conferences, create small groups so students can practice what they want to say.

It’s a simple process and the benefits are totally worth it. Finally, students are the ones doing the talking, and this has helped my students take ownership of their learning and growth opportunities more powerfully than anything I can tell a parent in a traditional conference. Now, instead of simply sharing from school to home, my students demonstrate their independence, achievement, and resolve to improve. Student-led conferences bring intrinsic meaning and purpose because the focus of the conferences is where it should be, on the student.

For more information on professional learning opportunities on how to implement student-led conferences, click here.  Also, make sure you receive the professional learning program newsletter:

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