I hope people have seen or read Emily Richmond’s article on Student Led Parent Teacher Conferences in the Hechinger Report and then a shorter summary in The Atlantic Monthly. Emily talks about the use of Student Led Conferences as part of a student centered approach as a foundation to improve a school that had not been performing well. Her article wonderfully describes and identifies the process, purpose and outcomes of student lead conferences – from how students learn to organize their work, engage in long term planning, develop deeper learning outcomes and even how this practice indirectly increases family engagement. I feel in love with the concept of Student Led Conferences when I visited Wheels Academy in the Bronx, a signature practice of EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning. And then I learned how this was a common practice across all 8 of the schools in my book, though they might be some slight variations on the process. Student Led Conferences contribute to everything Emily captured but I particularly like how they provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their work to significant adults in their life. How many times does any student engage in an in depth conversation about their performance beyond identifying what grade they got on a test, quiz, or paper with their family members at home? Not only does presenting out to family members motivate students to prepare but it helps them own their learning – take responsibility for the time and effort they did or did not put into their work and empowers them to advocate form themselves. One time, a student told her parents how much she wanted to go out of state to college despite the fact her parents were focused on having her attend a local college. Another time a student told his parents how having his newborn brothers, and twins at that, sleep in his bedroom was limiting his ability to study. The teacher helps the students frame these issues so they are supported in their own advocacy and therefore, are empowered to identify and communicate what kind of resources or support they need from their families to be successful, or express their interests and share the hopes they have for their education which their parents may or may not share. If Emily’s reasons or my reasons are not compelling enough for why we need to transition to student led conferences, how about this reason. Do you like to be talked about in the third person (and not absent) about your performance? Is that how you improve best and accept ownership for your success and/or challenges? If not, then why do we talk about students in the third person and at a venue where they are not even present suggesting they do not know themselves. At the end of the day, it is hard for any of us to grow if we are not provided with a structure and opportunity in a supportive environment to reflect on our work and then to share what we are learning about ourselves.
San Francisco, California