If we analyze traditional education: teachers plan lessons, teachers give assignments, teachers give tests and teachers conference with students and parents about progress. What if we completely flipped that? What if students planned the lessons, determined the assignments, tested each other, and led Parent Teacher conferences? Granted, the first three will take some time to develop, but we can find ways for students to lead their own conferences now.
Parent teacher conferences are always a source of stress because we are concerned about the many types of parents we encounter. We have parents who believe their child is the best in the class or parents who want even more from their child even when the child is working to their full potential. We have parents who blame the child for everything, and even more uncomfortable, who blame the teacher for everything.
The truth is, all parents want is the best for their child and they are displaying that in the only way they know how. However, if we can train the students to run their own conferences, then we can encourage and facilitate a healthy discussion between student and parent. After all, our job is not to ensure compliance and completion, but rather to manufacture opportunities that help students think and then facilitate that scenario in a way that will help students recognize their metacognition. When we do that our students no longer search for the “right answer” but rather recognize and employ strategies to determine and justify “their answer.”
Three ways we can begin to help our students lead their own Parent Teacher conferences are through Data, Portfolios, and Summaries.
Data the dreaded word we teachers love to hate. As an artist and English teacher the word data scared me because it screamed numbers (and I wasn’t a fan of numbers), but truthfully data is merely evidence and as an ELA teacher I love evidence! We can help students to build their own data in many ways. We can have students track their attendance, track their homework completion, track their progress in assignments and assessments.
I also like to have students track their character and integrity, sign up below to get a character reflection template that you can use in your class today. Before conferences, have students make conclusions about the type of student they want to be and whether the data support their conclusions. Then have them make goals for the upcoming term. The data talk can start off the student-led parent teacher conferences and students can show their ability to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and inform parents of their goals.
If your curriculum is prepared for the year then designing student portfolios from the beginning is pretty painless. Design a checklist with the standards re-written into “I can” or “I have demonstrated” statements and if you are really prepared you can organize and categorize these based on the actual assessments they will be completed, including due dates and evaluation scores. Attach this checklist on the top of a folder and after each assessment (formative and/or summative) have students complete their portfolio progress and insert their evidence into the folder.
Even if you are starting from scratch with your curriculum, you can still help student track their progress. You can still create a checklist with the standards and accompanying space beside each statement where the student can fill in what work they have completed that provides an example or evidence of their demonstration. If all else fails, you can create a completely blank chart and fill it in as the year progresses.
However, once the year gets going you are probably going to forget to come back to this progress tracker, so be sure you have a student on your leadership team who is in charge of organizing a sample progress tracker and who attends the leadership meeting with the sole purpose of reminding you to include time into the schedule to work on student portfolios. Once at the parent teacher conferences, students can walk their parents through their portfolio highlighting their areas of growth and areas of success and build goals with the parents.
It is such an exciting opportunity to watch students walk their parents through their data and portfolios, create goals, and then tell their parents how and where they need support. If you want to look at how to create and use these data points and portfolios for assessments, I highly recommend checking out EdCloset’s Assessment for Makers online class. It walks you through creating assessments like these for your own classroom.
The above two strategies will take time to develop with your students. The process of building the portfolios or learning how to read and translate the data is not something that can be done quickly (or at least it cannot be done very well if it is done quickly), so if you find that you have very little time but you want to start moving towards having students lead their own conferences, you can build a summary sheet and spend one day giving students the time to fill out their summaries and use that sheet to help students lead their conferences.
You can include whatever you find important to review at the conference including compliance issues (numbers of absences, detentions, etc), completion of homework (number of assignments turned in), or test scores. Most schools have the technology to print out students’ individual attendance and grade reports (or even with our older students who have smartphones, most of this can be found in a student portal), so spend a day helping students to read this information and transfer it to their summary sheet. Always include space for students to acknowledge where they are strong and where they need to grow, as well as design goals for their upcoming term.
You will need to take at least one class period to help students gather their information and train them on the order in which they should present to their parents. Of course, the first time you do this you will definitely have to interject and guide, but hopefully, the students will become pros by the end of the year.
It is no secret that teachers may feel a bit of anxiety or even sometimes attack at parent teacher conferences, so why not alleviate that whole experience by turning it over to the students.