The Parent’s Role in a Student-Led Conference

How can you support your student in sharing how they learn?

the parent's role in a student-led conferenceIn recent decades, schools have turned the table on the traditional parent-teacher conference. More and more, schools are engaging the student and putting him or her in the driver’s seat at this learning conversation. A student-led conference (SLC) can be a beautiful thing. But parents sometimes struggle to understand them. They are, after all, a complete departure from what most parents experienced as kids.

So here’s a look at the parent’s role in a student-led conference.

The traditional parent-teacher conference was cloaked in secrecy. Parents scooted off to school to meet with teachers, while children worried with sweaty palms about what was being reported. I remember sitting at home and thinking, “Will my teacher mention that time I forgot to do my homework? Or when I flicked a spitball at the boy across the aisle?” Those were anxiety-fueled minutes of waiting. I felt powerless and small.

the parent's role in a student-led conference
My husband, being present for our son’s student-led conference.

Now, the purpose of a student-led conference is to empower the student.

The experience is designed for ownership, collaboration, and reflection. In preparation for a student-led conference, teachers spend weeks helping the students get ready. But in my years as an educator and teacher conducting student-led conferences, I never thought to inform parents of their role in an SLC.

Let’s take a look at this video created by Edutopia that features some ideal student led conferences.

What parent behaviors do you notice?


3 Pieces of Advice for Your Child’s Student-Led Conference

  1. Be present for your child

It’s precious time for your child. Leave other siblings out of the room by setting up activities and chairs in the hallway. Put your smart phone and any other distractions away. Take notes if you find that helpful.

  1. Focus on growth

In an SLC, the student is meant to describe their learning and progress since your last conversation. They may identify and describe goals, show work and evidence of proficiencies, and share reflections upon learning. Parents can keep their eyes on the big picture and look for noticeable areas of growth or improvement.

  1. Schedule a follow-up

At a student led conference, some conversations that parents may want to have with a teacher are out of place. In order to avoid the inappropriate conversation, follow up with the teacher privately. Most teachers are more than happy to schedule a separate appointment.  

Here’s something that happened to me last week:

One of my children was having a lovely student-led conference focused on goals, growth and aspirations. My son has made some significant gains, and we were proud of his demonstration of learning. When the teacher showed us his standardized test scores in math, I noticed a concerning lack of growth over the year or two. It wasn’t the place to bring this up in front of my child. Instead, I sent the teacher an email afterwards; as a result, we’ve started a dialogue about strategies for improvement. This conversation needed to happen, but it could have spoiled any positive impacts if done at the conference.

Parents play an important role at the Student Led Conference

You are true partners in your child’s learning and growth, and student-led conferences provide you invaluable opportunity to stop, sit and really hear who your child is, and who they want to be. Your student will tell you what they’re proud of, and what they want to learn about. Especially for young adolescents and middle grades students, that’s not a conversation that frequently happens organically. Make the most of the time they’re taking to open up to you, and respond with support, kindness and undivided attention. Student-led conferences are opportunities for both you and your child to connect, and feel empowered. It’s great for both of you to be in the room.

Educators, what other advice could you give parents to prepare for their child’s student-led conference?

12 thoughts on “The Parent’s Role in a Student-Led Conference”

  1. I think it is a great system so that students can feel responsibility through the curriculum; what they learned, what they do, where they are heading for and what they need to find out through the work. Also, they will find out the strength and weakness of the study and might deserve to work on to get through the part they need to complete positively.

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What do you think?