Student Led Conferences – Building Partnerships in Schools
It is a well-known fact that effective schooling takes place when teachers, parents and learners form a partnership and work together towards a common goal. However, in my experience, very rarely do all three parties come together in any meaningful way. Teachers work with learners, learners talk to their parents and parents meet with teachers, but how often do parents, teachers and learners come together in one room to discuss a learner’s progress and goals? I can honestly say that in my nearly twenty years in the classroom, this has rarely happened and on the few occasions when a learner has attended a meeting with their parents, I found it very awkward and was unsure of who to address and how to put across the information that the parent needed to hear.
About a year ago, I attended a conference where a school presented how they manage their parent meetings making use of the idea of Student Led Conferences and my interest was piqued. When my deputy principal at the time asked me to give them a go, I couldn’t find a reason to say no, so I dove in head first and I am glad I did!
What is a Student Led Conference?
A Student Led Conference (SLC) is like any parent-teacher conference, except that the meeting is led by the learner. Learners are asked to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and to set appropriate short and medium-term goals to share with their parents and teachers in the meeting. All three parties are able to work together to help the learner to refine their goals, and it gives the learner the opportunity to express their needs to their parents and teachers openly.
How do Student Led Conferences work?
In the weeks before the meetings, I ask my Grade 7 learners to complete a questionnaire where they reflect on their learning so far. They are required to focus on two areas of strength, which we celebrate in the meetings. I also ask the learners to reflect on two areas in which they needed to grow. In this section, I ask them to consider which Habits of Mind they needed to build upon and what practical steps they need to take to work on these areas. These “growth opportunities” become their goals which will be reflected on later in the year.
After the questionnaires are completed, I then meet with each learner individually or in pairs (with someone they are comfortable with) and discuss what they have written. At times, I ask questions to help guide the learner to more detailed answers. Then we meet with the parents and the learners present their answers to their parents and as a team, we discuss the learner’s progress.
The Benefits of Student Led Conferences
I can honestly say that I absolutely loved the process of taking my Grade 7s through their SLCs and I believe that the benefits are numerous.
Firstly, and possibly my favourite part of this process, was meeting with my Grade 7s one-on-one or in small groups. It gave me the opportunity to meet each child and for them to have my undivided attention. In a class of 25 children, it is easy for the quiet child who just gets on with things to be overlooked or to feel overlooked, even if they aren’t and these meetings give me the opportunity to hear from those children and to let them know that they are seen and valued in my classroom. Many of my children were nervous to meet with me, but every single one left smiling and most of them feel far more free to approach me about any issue because they now know they can and that I do genuinely care about them.
Secondly, it was fascinating to see how many children can enumerate their short comings and perceived failures but really struggle to see their strengths and the ways in which they have grown. This reinforced my belief that our learners are very results orientated, that they miss the fact that learning is a process and a journey and that growth, and not the end product, is what is important. This has also led me to question what I can do to help my learners view learning as a life-long process and to encourage Growth Mindsets in my daily classroom practice.
Thirdly, this process allows learners to take ownership of their learning and their progress. My Grade 7s are very capable of telling us where they need to improve, and as parents and teachers, we are able to provide guidance as to how they can achieve their goals and because it has come from the learners themselves, they are far more invested in the process.
Fourthly, it was wonderful to see parents showing up for the meetings and investing in their child’s learning. For the first time ever, I had more than 90% of my parents pitching for their meetings. It was beautiful to see the children presenting to their parents and to see the parents asking questions and investing in their child’s learning. I also received so much positive feedback from the parents about these meetings.
For the first time in my career, I am excited about parent meetings. Yes, SLCs take a bit more time and planning, but the payoff is huge and makes the time investment so worth it. I am excited to refine this process over time and to continue to build strong partnerships between myself, my learners and their parents.
Grade 7 Register Teacher and Intersen Phase HoD
Miss Philip has been teaching Grade 7 at Knights for almost 20 years. She holds a Bachelor of Primary Education and an Advanced Diploma in Remedial Education. She is passionate about learning and learners and loves guiding her Grade 7s through their final year of Prep School.