- Rayna Freedman, a 5th grade teacher at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Massachusetts, involves her students in parent-teacher conferences, she wrote in eSchoolNews. When she began the practice, each discussion took 45 minutes. Now they’re down to 20 minutes per family and much more efficiently run.
- Students prepare digital portfolios of their own work, and Freedman believes this is important. She has eight reasons why she has students run their own parent-teacher conferences. One is that by giving them some ownership of how their work is presented to parents, they’re more invested in their own learning.
- Students also learn to develop and tap into communication skills to put together a portfolio that can show their work in a way that others can understand. The conference also gives them a chance to consider what they’re doing well, and to self-assess where they may need to do more work.
Giving students a voice in parent-teacher conferences gives them ownership over their learning. In essence, they have to defend their own work. According to the West Virginia Department of Education, for example, student-led conferences may help students “take more responsibility for their academic achievement and self-discipline.”
However, preparing students so they can lead and even architect their own parent-teacher conferences may require some preparation from educators, along with curriculum designers and administrators. It’s crucial, for example, that students have the confidence, speaking ability and soft skills to direct some of these discussions. Building experiences into the curriculum that develop these tools would be helpful, such as project-based learning which requires students think through how to complete their work — or in this case a presentation.
Students must also have organizational skills, the kind that helps them break apart what they’ll need to show and do during a conference and to be ready with the elements. Perhaps they’re putting together a digital presentation: They need to collect the work they’ll want to show their parents, and have it ready by a deadline.
Collaboration is also tapped, particularly if students practice these conversations in advance with their classmates, learning what is and isn’t working, and adjusting their work before the big night, according to a Baltimore County Public Schools resource.
While it seems as if very young students may not able to handle the responsibility to running a parent-teacher conference, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development disagrees. The group believes that even kindergartners can take the lead in defending their work and progress. Showing parents what they’ve accomplished, and even demonstrating that work — whether it’s singing a song they’ve learned in class, or walking adults through a research assignment — is something every child can learn, and feel confident doing as well.