The Power of Student Agency

This school year I am working with my faculty and staff to launch student-led conferences.  Student-led Conferences (SLC’s) have been around for years but have not caught on as a promising practice with many schools and school districts.  It is truly a shame that more schools have not adopted the practice. To get started you could check out the variety of resources on Edutopia, Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest. Two Rivers Public Charter Schoolin Washington, D.C. has a great web page that outlines the benefits of student-led conferences for parents.

A typical parent-teacher conference finds the teacher reporting to the student’s parent(s)/gaurdians about the child’s academic performance and behavior. Often times these meeting can be contentious as teachers try to communicate how the student performs and behaves in school.  Meanwhile, parents can become increasingly defensive about the comments made about their child, especially if the comments are negative, as they perceive the teacher comments as a reflection on them as a parent or parenting style.   But what is the critical piece missing from these meetings? 

When properly scaffolded and supported, student-led conferences can be a powerful practice wherein students to develop agency in their own learning and set goals with their parents for future growth.

The Student! Doesn’t it make sense to actually include the student who is being discussed at the conference? In my time as a teacher, I have had the opportunity to teach first through eighth grade and I have found that when students are actually involved in the conference, the child and the parent take more ownership in the learning process.  When properly scaffolded and supported, student-led conferences can be a powerful practice wherein students to develop agency in their own learning and set goals with their parents for future growth.

            In a student-led conference, the students and the teachers work together to develop a portfolio to share during the conference.  The teacher helps the students prepare to lead the conference so the teacher can act as a facilitator and ally to the student.  The student-led conference is the chance for students to share his or her reflections on their academic progress, success, and opportunities for growth. While the formats may differ slightly from kindergarten to grade eight, the idea is the same.  Students are responsible for their own learning and success.

            A student’s portfolio often incorporates pieces where they have demonstrated mastery, show where they are progressing and share areas of improvement. Teachers provide discussion starters and scripts for the students to help them lead the conference and build their confidence. During the student-led conference, teachers act as an advocate for the student and often help the student plan the conference by sharing positives, areas for improvement and encouraging families to create strategies to help support student growth at home.

            A parent’s role in the student-led conference is a bit different than that of a traditional teacher conference. Rather than wanting to ask the students teacher about grades and behavior, parents must focus the conversation on the child and reflect on work with the child.  It can be challenging for parents to listen to the student instead of asking questions to the teacher. 

It is important to remember that learning is active, not passive. As John D’Adamo, a friend and fellow Principal once shared during an #Edchat, “Learning is something one does, not something that happens to a person.”  It has taken some planning on my end to prepare the faculty for this different model but many have found it valuable already. It has helped with student accountability and classroom management.  Students too have begun to see a value.  Students have become more aware of their strengths and opportunities for growth. We are only about a third of the way through the year but I can already see signs that students are beginning to see the relationship between their effort, progress, and quality of their work. I hear it in their conversations in the classrooms, hallways and when I meet with students individually. I see it in the quality of the work the students are completing, knowing that it might be an exemplary piece of work they will want to share with during the conference. 

John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” That is the opportunity student-led conferences provide, an opportunity for reflection.

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