How to Flip Parent-Teacher Conferences

Megan Howe
Megan Howe
18 Oct
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As we get closer to the end of the year, dear teacher friends, that can only mean two things – report cards and parent conferences. (Ok, yes, there will be a holiday break. I didn’t forget.) Conference time used to be a time of the year I dreaded until I made one significant change.

About 6 years ago, I had one of my most amazing teacher partners – Molly*. She brought with her tricks of the trade that I use almost every day throughout the school year. One that I treasure more than others is the student-led conference. Parent conferences used to be a source of anxiety for me. How could I show all the amazing work their child did in 30 minutes? How should I address tricky issues like low academic performance or a wide range of social issues? Student-led conferences solved all that.

Molly and I taught 4th grade. She showed me how to prep kids to pick their best work. She walked me through creating a portfolio that they could show their parents. We asked kids to think about goals for themselves – academically and socially. We pushed students to come up with a plan to achieve those goals.

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I have used student led conferences every year since teaching with Molly. Sometimes it is a first for the school and other teachers aren’t ready to jump on board. Sometimes parents are skeptical and ask if they can have a follow up meeting so we can talk about “what’s really going on” as if the student-led conference is just some kind of dog and pony show. I always assure parents that if they still have concerns or things to discuss they can certainly schedule another meeting.

Here’s what happens. In the 6ish years I have used student-led conferences, parents are overwhelmingly happy. Parents and students beam with pride as they look through portfolios. Parents are impressed when they hear their child say, “I am ready for your questions and comments.”

Even better, kids almost always nail it when it comes to their goals. Their goals are usually similar to what I would have picked for them and it means so much more when they recognize their struggles on their own. And if their goal is different? That’s ok – I will still work on those multiplication facts with them. After the conference, kids have significantly more ownership about meeting their own goals. Yes, I have had some parents schedule a meeting to follow up, but in 6 years I could probably count all those meetings on one hand.

So what are you waiting for? I encourage you to do a quick internet search and find resources. You will find videos of kids, even as young as kindergarten, leading their own conferences. You will have to do work. Kids need lessons in how to choose work that is their best, how to write a specific, achievable goal, and how to make a plan to meet those goals. I promise you, all that hard work is worth it. Soon, you will look forward to conferences every fall just like I do.

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* Names have been changed

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