The Paradigm of Parent Teacher Conference – The Status Quo

Parent Teacher Conferences are times that I don’t usually look forward to. Being a participant and a person who gives feedback, I find it a distressing process as we see 3 rooms, filled with students who are no performing well academically and/or not behavior expectations. Sometimes the student shows up and most of the times they are absent from the process leaving their parents to listen to the conversations highlighting their child’s deficiencies. Conversations sometimes last 30 – 45 minutes of what the student needs to do with no solid action plans. During that time, we rarely see the student speak. We only see the student spoken to. At the end of the conference, I see the parents left frustrated and sometimes the child left speechless and disempowered. Is this the education that we want our children to experience? Is this what it means to empower and liberate?

The Shift

At our school, there has been a shift from Parent Teacher Conferences to now Student Led Conferences. As an advisor, I am happy we are shifting conferences in this way. My role as an advisor has shifted to one that recognizes the advisees strengths and brilliance, coaching our advisees in navigating their learning process, and questioning what our advisees present to deepen their thoughts. Other’s might say, focusing on the positives are great, but the student won’t know what they need to work on. Yet, I know there is a space to navigate this conversation but we have make sure that conversation starts with the student owning that in the first place.

The Preparation

Prior to conference week, I prepped many of them prior to student led conference week by helping them reflect, fill out their presentation template, and rehearse what to say during advisory class and during office hours. In prepping students up, I’m amazing how much our students bring to the table. We have now transformed this experience from one that highlights the student’s deficits to one that highlights our student’s assets, journey, and reflection of that journey. In asking students how they felt about this process, many of them felt awkward going into the conference and I think it is important to provide them a sense of comfort by reminding them that as an advisor, I’ll be guide them along the way by asking follow up questions to push their thinking a bit more.

Student Led Conference Student Prep Slide deck

The question is how did I get 19 families to sign up within the course of a week. Google calendar has a really cool way of signing up for appointment so families signed for an appointment slot which informed them what the zoom link is. I also mailed something home to families with directions on how to sign up for an appointment. A couple days before the student led conference happened, I email parents one more time as a reminder when their appointment is. It is essential to triage this effort to get more families involved.

Google Appoint Calendar

The Day of The Student Led Conference

On the day of the conference, I have an agenda prepped which outlines how their time is going to be spent.

Agenda for participants

And there I wait for the students to enter the zoom room with a background as seen below.

Waiting for the incoming conference calls.

After going over the norms of the conference, I pass on the mic on to the advisees and now the conference becomes a conversation where the parents are the listeners witnessing their child expressing this achievements, struggles, and strategies. From learning about classes they enjoy or not enjoy, to things that they like to do, to work that they are proud of, to goals and actions plans they want to achieve, I got to know the student really well during this 30 minutes time period. Plus this is the most I heard them speak throughout the school year.

My favorite moments of this conference includes:

  • Working with an advisee on modeling executive functioning as they got explore how to prioritize tasks because they felt overwhelm with the amount of online work.
  • Guiding students to set SMART Goal, action plans, and curate supports and resources they can reach out to.
  • Seeing their parent listen and celebrate their child by recognizing their hard work, their growth, and telling their child they still have room to grow as long as they continue to practice.
  • Seeing student describe their evidence of learning to their parent and having parents involved in questioning what they are learning.
  • Hearing student explicitly say , ” I need to work on . . . “, “I am challenged by . . . “, “I need help on . . .” These are growth mindset sentence starters.

Below is a video clip of student led conference. (Disclosure: I ask the parent for permission. Sorry my voice didn’t pick up during the recording so you won’t hear how it was co-facilitated.)

Areas of Growth

I recognize that this is the first time our school is doing this and that this is a start to making sure our students are given voice and given an opportunity to show off their learning. As with any start, there are areas that we need to improve on. Below are just a number of areas I feel that can strengthen student led conferences for the future.

  • It is essential that the conversation becomes about what the students are learning and how they evaluate their learning. I wonder how we can use advisory as a space to collect evidence of learning and to reflect on their learning. How might we use a portfolio structure to drive student led conferences? How can we use advisory to do that?
  • In the beginning of the conference, I feel that there should be an icebreaker so we get to the know student, the parents, and the advisor vs. starting right away.
  • I find the agenda a very valuable tool so that all participants know what to expect during the conference time.
  • All students should be partaking in this experience. Once there is an expectation of this and the expectation is maintained for the long term, then it becomes a ritual for the advisory program.
  • Advisors needs to be listeners and our role to is push student thinking through questioning, reframing, seeking patterns in thoughts to finally inform all stakeholders of possible SMART Goal(s) that the student can focus on for the time period.
  • Students like to focus on grades a lot. It became culture at our school where the goals of many of our student is to get an A without explicitly naming how to get there. We need to reframing the language of grades into language of actions. The facilitators need to push for action toward the end of the conference.
  • How do we use the conversation with our student to improve individual, grade levels, team, or school level practice? This is an authentic form data that we need to analyze and interpret to inform us of further actions of what our school needs to improve on to meet the needs of our students and families.

In Conclusion

I know at this moment we are in the middle of conference and I really enjoy being partners with the family in this process. Partnership is key and our families at the end of the day feel that. If you want students to buy in to their educational experience, we need to make sure we give them voice to reflect on it so they are able seek growth and so that it push us as a school to make sure we are meeting the learning needs of our students. If we want families to be partner in education such structures that celebrate student learning and reflection allows families to looking into their child experience feel a sense of involvement.

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