As much as I like the logic of having your students lead the parent teacher conferences, I am grateful taht this doesn’t happen at my school. I prefer meeting with the parents without the child present.
Sometimes vital issues are raised that are not for the child’s ears.
I can still remember the anxiety I felt when my parents went off to school for the traditional biannual parent-teacher conference like it was yesterday. The anxiety I felt was not even rational: I was a good student, I was on the honor role. So why was this so disconcerting? Probably because a set of “authority figures” were discussing and most likely, assessing, my day-to-day behavior, habits and learning strategies. They were sure to talk about what was enhancing or deterring my performance and I knew I would learn all about it later.
I recognize that the purpose of the teacher-led conference is to honor the expertise of the teacher and solidify a relationship between the parent and teacher. This ensures parents can understand and support their children academically. But there is a different, and I believe, better way for parents to learn how to support their students academically – and that is through student-led conferences.
Instead of having students stay home while their parents and teachers talk about them in the third person, have students lead the conference. The student could be prepared for the conference by the teacher through a collaborative review of their previous work and a guided reflection on the connection between their efforts and the quality of their work. The teacher could kick off the conference with an explanation of the process but move to the side or sit across the table with the parents to serve more as a facilitator than the leader. While the specific logistics and dynamics of student-led conferences vary, the basic spirit is the same: This is the student’s moment to take responsibility for their own learning.
Parent-teacher conferences were a good idea in concept but they reflect a tradition that is too centered on adults. Flipping these conferences to be student-led empowers the student and facilitates a partnership between the teacher and parents that is focused on supporting what the student identifies as her strengths and challenges in learning, not what the teacher or parent identifies for the student.
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