I can clearly picture my eight-year-old self staring out the large window, waiting for my parents to come home from my parent-teacher conference. I wanted to know what my teacher said, how I was doing, and what was wrong with me. The stress as the minutes ticked by increased as I got older, and the stakes were higher. As my parents shared the details with me, I am not sure I paid attention.
When I became a teacher, that memory stuck with me, and in my first year as I sat discussing students with parents, I felt something was missing. I realized it was not something but someone. The student should be part of the conversation; after all, it is his or her learning we are discussing.
From that point on, I transitioned to student-led conferences with elementary students. That first year they took 45 minutes per child, and I was meeting with students and their parents during my lunch, after school, or at night at the public library. It took a month to get through all students, but the pride in both the student’s and parent’s faces made it all worth it.
Eighteen years later I am able to do 20 minutes per child, having rich conversations as a team to support student learning. This past year we added digital portfolios that transformed the conference. Students presented their work in a small, theater-style setting, taking complete ownership of their learning process.
Educators often ask me why I have elementary students run their own conference. Below are a few of the reasons I share with them.
8 reasons why my students should lead their own conferences
1. Student-led conferences promote student agency.
Running their own conference provides students a meaningful experience that is relevant and authentic. It allows students to voice their own strengths and weaknesses. They choose what to share to showcase things they learned, need to work on, and are proud of. By making decisions about their learning, students take a greater investment in the process.
2. Students are part of the conversation.
By giving a child the opportunity to express him or herself as part of the learning team, we are letting the child know you are important. You have value. You need to own your own learning and scaffold your own thinking to grow. These are invaluable life skills!
3. Students are accountable for their own success.
Student-led conferences send a message to individual learners that they are in charge of their own success. The adults surrounding them will support and guide them, but ultimately the child drives his or her own decision-making process. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of the student. When students share what they need to work on to their parents and teachers, they immediately take ownership of this and begin working on it the next day.