The student-led conference as celebration

What does it take for us to see parent-teacher conferences as celebrations? What does it take for families to see those conferences as celebrations? And how can we make sure that students themselves feel celebrated for their achievements?

We know student-led conferences push our school systems in the right direction, to a place where students demonstrate agency and voice in explaining who they are as learners.

But do they work?

“It was just great to see like two really big pieces of my life, school and home, come together. And it just felt really great that both sides were really celebrating me and I felt humbled and just really special for that half an hour, even though it’s like a conference. It made me feel really great and made me reflect on how I’ve been doing and I’m really proud of the work I’ve been doing.”

–Morgan, 7th grade student

Point, set, MATCH. Now let’s rewind, and figure out what made this particular conference so successful.

Meet Morgan, and Morgan’s mom

This past spring, Morgan, a 7th grader at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, VT, sat down with her mom, her math teacher and a student teacher, for one incredibly powerful student-led conference. Morgan had notes. She’d prepared a short slideshow. And all the adults in the room showed up ready to listen.


In a post-conference interview Morgan noted: “I would feel so great to know that other people, and maybe a lot of people, are having the same kind of experience that we had, because … if everybody had that, then everybody would feel celebrated.”

A quick word about this Pop-Up ed-Video:

As you watch Morgan’s student-led conference, you’ll see informative tags pop up on the screen, providing a roadmap to the topics being discussed. It’s helpful to know, for instance, that Morgan’s math teacher, Mrs. Anderson, gradually returns to the topic of Morgan’s goal, which was introduced earlier. It’s helpful to have a little context on Morgan’s 8th Grade Decision.

The conference took a past, present, future format and Morgan shares the following components:

  • Past: Morgan reflected on her goal for the year of “increasing self-advocacy.”
  • Present: Morgan shares a resume that she put together for a project.
  • Future: Morgan talks about her hopes for the next school year.

Additionally, we’ve added some questions for reflection. The timestamps indicate places you can pause the video and reflect along with us.

(4:38)

  • How did Morgan explain her goal?
  • How did Morgan measure her growth?
  • And how did Morgan’s mom give her feedback on her goal?

(11:33)

  • How did mom connect to her own life experience?
  • How did mom and teacher celebrate Morgan’s work?
  • And how did mom and teacher give feedback on next steps?

(14:01)

  • How does Morgan’s view of grades match with a proficiency-based learning environment?
  • And how did reflecting on her goals help Morgan feel proud of herself?

(16:13)

  • How does putting projects at the center of a student-led conference help drive the conversation?

Keep the pause button handy! And feel free to watch this video with your teaching team or administrative leadership. It is a CORKER.

What made this conference work

This conference has so many amazing features. In addition to the overall celebration of Morgan’s growth as a learner, there is plenty of substantial reflection based on artifacts and evidence.

We see lots of feedback from mom, comparing Morgan’s prepared résumé to the work she does at her dayjob with the town Parks and Recreation department. We see expert subtle facilitation and input from Mrs. Anderson, including drawing Morgan into a conversation about work completion, and how that could be part of her goals going forward.

Morgan’s mom told me afterwards that she would definitely rename student-led conferences “celebrations”. Result!

Hey. Kudos to all the educators out there striving to set the stage for students to facilitate experiences like this one. Stories like these? Remind us what’s possible.

Author

Life LeGeros

Life has worked in various roles in K-12 education, including classroom teacher, assistant principal, math department head, state agency administrator, and school board teacher representative. His dissertation focused on the impact of math teachers' knowledge on the growth of their students. He believes in teacher leadership, student empowerment, and challenging the status quo. He loves being immersed in tech-rich and outdoor environments, though not simultaneously. Find him on Twitter @lifelegeros.

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