Student-Led Parent-Teacher Conferences
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
When I was a kid, I always worried about Parent-Teacher Conference Night. What would my parents say to embarrass me? What would my teacher say I was really like at school? I like to reduce that anxiety in my own students by inviting them to lead the conference. Below is my anxiety reducing recipe for student-led conferences.
In Chippewa Valley we have a fall conference and a spring conference. For the fall conference I ask that every student accompanies the parent(s). For the spring conference, I leave the decision up to the parents.
Why Student-Led Conferences?
- Alleviates student anxiety
- Allows the students time to reflect and be responsible for their academic progress
- Allows the student to see that the parents and teacher are working together
- Allows the students to have input into their academic or personal goals
- Allows the students to develop oral communication skills
- May increase parental attendance to conferences
The Week Before the Conference
I tell the students that I'd like them to hear what their parents and I discuss. I invite the students to the conference and tell them that they will be the ones to start things off. In the computer lab I review with the students some of the basic commands in PowerPoint, and then they fill in the blanks on pre-made slides for their conference:
- Slide #1 — Students write their name and the date.
- Slide #2 — Students give themselves letter grades on the life skills required in class (focus, respect, responsibility, integrity, following directions, organization, teamwork)
- Slide #3 — Students list their strengths or proud moments from the year so far.
- Slide #4 — The students list anything they would like their parents or me to help them with.
During the Conference
If necessary, I introduce the student to the SMART Board and give a brief lesson on how to utilize it. The student then goes through each slide and explains why they gave themselves the particular grades they did. When the student is done, we applaud. I then pull out the report card and have the parents say anything that is on their mind. Lastly, I add whatever I feel necessary.
If there is time at the end of the conference, I let the students present their PowerPoint research project that they completed during the first trimester.
- Put out a tablecloth and some mints to add to the atmosphere.
- Play some soothing music very quietly in the background. I recommend Enya.
- In the hallway post the schedule and a sign that says, "Please knock politely when your appointment time has arrived." This helps keep the schedule rolling.
- Have some coloring books or blank paper in the hall with some writing utensils. This will help to occupy any students or their siblings while they wait.
- Have all of your assessments or student folders ready.
- Prepare a few positives about each child ahead of time.
- Keep a box of Kleenex handy for those emotional moments.
- Have handouts with reading strategies, useful Web sites, or tutoring lists available.
- Invite the principal or other administrator to conferences that you feel uncomfortable with.
- Stay on schedule. Politely say, "I think we do have more to discuss. Contact me this week so we can schedule some more time.
You can find more suggestions in the Scholastic article "Teacher Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences."
Caution: Be genuine and be honest! Student-led conferences only work if you are always honest with your students. If you have been telling a student they have been excelling and in the conference you say the opposite, then you will break the trust and lose the rapport you have been trying to build with that child.
What conference tips do you have to offer?