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Using Student-Led Parent-Teacher Conferences to Build Relationships

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Quite a few readers responded to my blog entry "In the Loop: The Payoff for Parent-Teacher Conferences." As winter approaches, the next round of conferences is just around the corner. I want to address some of your general questions and comments, and, hopefully, this will help with upcoming planning. For those who don't conference, consider building conferences into your calendar next year.

What is the difference between a conference and a portfolio folder? The only difference is that the work is shared at school, not at home. Granted, with a conference at school, parents are forced to look at their child's work; but because they care about their child's successes, they should be doing this at home anyway.

Yes, if a conference is just looking at a folder of work, it is a missed opportunity. A powerful student-led parent-teacher conference focuses on student learning goals we can set by examining the student's work. This is an active event in which the learner and those responsible for supporting her education identify her strengths and areas of growth and make plans to address these areas. Unfortunately, parents often do not know how to support their children in school, particularly if they were unsuccessful in their own schooling. The conference is one tool to help parents support their child's success.

Readers also commented on how to encourage more parents to attend these types of conferences. Because many parents, even at the elementary school level, often take a passive role in their child's schooling, what can a teacher do to make conferences more interesting so parents will want to attend?

One solution is to pair conferences up with something else going on that evening that may interest parents -- perhaps a concert or dance. Parents may be in the neighborhood to drop their child off, and this may make it more convenient for them.

At Envision Schools, we put aside an entire week of minimum days, which gives plenty of time and sets the priority for the school community. The incentive we use is that we hand out report cards, rather than mail them. If you don't attend a conference, you will not receive a report card. Each adviser follows up with each parent until they attend. Currently, 95 percent of our parents participate.

As students get older, especially as they begin high school, they yearn for a sense of independence and maturity. In this struggle, I find there is often a disconnect between students and their parents in regard to school performance. Because kids and parents don't often talk about school, we think parent-teacher conferences are imperative. By requiring this interaction, we are telling parents it is OK to get involved with their teenager's high school education. For students, we give them some cover; they really do want their parents involved.

Several readers addressed the issue of time management when teaching a large number of students. Those teaching 100 kids or more will have to get creative. Our teachers have responsibility for holding only 20-30 conferences. We believe that in order to achieve better results, we need to redesign secondary schools in order to foster these types of interactions.

I hope some of these ideas will support you in planning powerful conferences for your students this spring. Please post comments about your successes and challenges with student-led parent-teacher conferences.

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Tammy Smith's picture

Hi Bob,
My name is Tammy Smith and my daughter attended Impact Academy in Hayward while living with my brother and his wife. Everything you are saying sounds good on paper however your school failed my daughter and she has not credit in all of her classed to prove it. Her advisor Julia Gonzalez can not even tell me when the last time She, Michaela, and her teachers along with my brother sat down for a conference to develop a plan for her. They were so charmed by my daughters good looks and great personality that they refused to hold her accountable for her actions. One of her teachers (Denise) was noted as saying, "Last week, I've attempted to move Michaela's assigned seat in my class to the front so she wouldn't be as distracted in class. I don't feel it has helped too much. I constantly have to ask her to redirect her focus to the front of the classroom when I am teaching or talking to the whole class. It is also my fault for not being consistent with the behavior management plan with her." It is my belief that the lack of consistent instruction and discipline has contributed to Michaela's failing. I would like to know your thoughts as I can not seem to connect with the Impact staff to discuss it. Jen Wickens has my number. Thank you.
Tammy Smith

Vernon John's picture

Sometimes these meetings are organized in small groups over several weeks with key training teams travel to different sites to deploy initiatives training and live Web Conferencer presentations. With GoToMeeting, you can share desktops and even share the mouse and keyboard control. At the same time, managers and micro-traditionalists will no doubt take a skeptical eye of a web conferencing solution implemented on a large scale as a direct replacement for the person training.

Kathryn Symmes's picture

I have two nights 5pm - 8pm of parent teacher conferences this week. Last night I meet with 29 parents, 26 of the whose students have A's in my class. Two students whose parents attended have C's, and one has an F. This happens every year. The parents of A students come to hear how wonderful their child is and what good parents they are. Last night I had my student assignment sheet with grades for individual assignments, but some computer glitch left out the overall quarter grade. As I explained this to my first parent, she pulled out the grade sheet she had already printed from the computer Parent Internet Viewer program where students and parents can view grades and teacher comments. How many high schools and why would high schools hold parent teacher conferences in the 21st century when we have email, and online grade reports? I have taught since 1978, and I am a parent. These conferences are exhausting for teachers and it seems parents are there to get a "good parent" massage.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Editor & writer on teaching, learning, & education

This is a great idea. I think it would be neat to combine student led parent-teacher conference style with the edcamp model. Students can plan out sessions that they'd like parents-teachers to cover, but also to hold sessions of their own with parents and teachers as attendees regarding an issue they consider to be important in education. I think the organization of such an event would not only allow students to hone organizational and leadership skills, but to actually form real and lasting relationships with parents and teachers regarding their learning in school.

Dana P's picture

Our school has recently gone to student-led conferences. It has been an adjustment for teachers, but more so on the parents. I have heard some of the parents say they disliked the conference style and wished they had one on one time with just the teacher. Our higher grades started the idea first and this will be the first year the whole building is trying it. Our district has sixteen teachers per grade level. It is important that all of the teachers are on the same page and doing conferences the same way. We have started a data binder, which holds important information for each student. Those binders are used a conferences to help the students share out information to their parents and help guide the conference smoothly. They seem to help the students. These binders also go with the student each year for their follow teacher to look at and learn from them. I feel that the student-led conferences will get easier, but will take time for all to adjust!
One side note, we also pair up some type of event the night of conferences to try and get more participation.
Happy conferencing! Thanks for the insight!!

Holmes's picture

I am middle school teacher that implements student led conferences. It is powerful. After all, we want all students to take responsibility for their learning, and do their best work. What is a better way to do this than a chance to help students grasp these goals by carrying out student-led conferences; ultimately, allowing students to be directly involved in their learning process. This is such a great opportunity for our students.

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