Within schools, we always speak about the importance of student leadership, and a great way to cultivate that is through the parent-teacher conference process.
Conferences are meant to be a feedback loop where both families and students learn more about their child’s experiences in the classroom, hearing directly from their teachers. However, in the typical model, students do not have agency in the process; they just sit there while the dialogue is happening solely between the parent and teachers. The traditional model of conferencing may leave the students with feelings of confusion and disenchantment.
But what if students had the opportunity to be co-creators of their conference experience where they were a part of the process, identifying strengths and stretches or opportunities for their growth?
Allowing students to lead the conference process gives them autonomy, helps build trust with their adviser or teacher, and deepens the capacity for students to advocate for themselves, a necessary skill that they will carry with them into the future.
To prepare students to lead conferences, teachers can build an opportunity for reflective practices that happen at the beginning of class, either before or after assessments, or during advisory periods. During this time, students can offer a skill they would like to learn, develop, or practice.
Teachers can build this capacity, incrementally over time, allowing students to gain more initiative and confidence. Integrating this aspect into conferences and continuing it throughout the year provides teachers with essential feedback on student progress.
Making students a part of conferences has several benefits that buttress both their academic and social and emotional experiences as well as their leadership development.
5 Benefits of Student-Led Conferences
1. Increased student engagement. When students know that they have an active voice in the conversation, they will choose to engage more in a classroom setting, as they will be able to speak directly to their improvement in key skill areas. Another benefit is increasing students’ confidence in their ability to speak in front of adults, learning how to advocate for what they need to be successful.
This type of engagement benefits all students, and the idea is to support them with taking the first step in this process. For students who may be hesitant or shy to lead, teachers can model the process, utilizing coaching strategies and role-play. For example, students can rehearse what they might say, and the teacher coaches the students through the process.
2. Activation of student voice. Students develop essential leadership skills when they must speak for themselves, identifying their strengths, stretches, and future academic and personal goals. Cultivating this specific type of autonomy will bode well for students in other situations in which they are confident in asking adults for support.
For example, if a student knows that they are easily distracted when sitting with peers, they may share with the teacher their desire for a seat in which they are less likely to be distracted. This simple change can have a significant impact on academic learning that was generated by the activation of the student voice.
3. Greater insight into student needs. When students are a part of the conference process, parents and teachers get to hear directly from them, which in turn helps us to better understand how students learn and where we can give them the tools that they need to succeed. When students lead conferences, they are in the driver’s seat. They are in a position to problem-solve by identifying strategies of support critical to their success.
4. Greater collaboration between teachers and students. Conferences that are led by students create a sense of collaboration in the feedback process. The relationship between student and teacher is essential to growth and collaboration. Collaboration between student and teacher in the conference process strengthens those relationships and helps build trust in meaningful ways. When students feel seen, valued, and heard, they are more apt to take risks, knowing they have the support of their teachers.
5. Establishment of a feedback loop. Feedback loops reinforce the importance of receiving feedback through a two-way street of communication and dialogue. The feedback-loop process enhances collaborative skills and offers space for self-reflection, identifying specific goals or measures for improved learning outcomes.
This feedback process impacts future learning and growth, as it is specific and purposeful, moving away from being transactional to transformational. The focus is not on a letter grade but on the process of learning, leadership skill development, and true partnership in the process.
Overall, when students play an integral part in conferences, they develop and practice invaluable leadership skills that they will carry into the future. No longer on the periphery, by leading conferences, students have real ownership in this essential component of the feedback-loop process where their voice is heard and valued, creating a more meaningful experience for all and an intrinsic one for the students.