Who is the Conference For Anyway?

So here we are, with only a couple of days left until our student led conferences, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch our students celebrate their learning. One of our divisional imperatives this year in the lower school is to empower students to take more ownership of their learning, and to put mechanisms in place that truly inspire a greater sense of student agency for all of our kids. We’re trying hard to become less teacher directed, and more student directed with regards to all aspects of a child’s daily experience in school, and we’re getting their…but it’s obviously not something that will happen overnight.

We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting however over the last little while around the ideas of differentiation, personalization, and student autonomy, and we have implemented many initiatives that have supported these important concepts. Things like student led conferences, goal setting, electronic portfolios, inspiration projects, and so much more. That said, we still have some work to do in order to get completely there, and it’s exciting to be in the midst of this transformation. As a quick example, I think we can still go a bit further in our approach to student goal setting by widening the scope to include social emotional goals, personal goals, service learning goals, and other areas that stretch beyond academic achievement. I’d like to eventually see students sharing out a truly comprehensive look at their personal growth more than just once a year as well…so much to think about as we continue down this road.

Getting back to what’s coming up for us on Tuesday, I want to share a post that I wrote about student led conferences several years ago, and looking back at it I think it still rings true. Here’s a piece of it for you to consider…

Essentially, when they are done properly, this style of conferencing is a direct attempt to involve students in the discussion about their learning, and to give them the opportunity to share, celebrate, and take ownership of their education. To be clear, the conference should not be about the teacher or the parent, but rather completely and utterly about the child. Students should be given the opportunity to reflect on their goals, discuss their educational growth, consolidate their learning, and to find that sense of pride that comes with hard work and achievement. In my opinion, watching a truly effective Student Led Conference is one of the most inspiring things that can happen in a child’s education. To hear a student talk about reaching their goals, and to produce supporting evidence of this, or to watch the pride and smiles on their faces (and their parents faces) when they reflect on the learning that has occurred throughout the year is what education is all about! All students from early childhood through to our graduating seniors should be given the opportunity to go through this process, and if done well these conference days can be incredibly profound.

But here’s the thing…………. with all the first hand experience I have with SLC’s, and all the articles I have read and videos that I have watched, the single most important ingredient to a successful conference is probably PREPARATION. It’s one thing to say that your school does Student Led Conferences, it’s another thing altogether to actually do them well. Teachers need to understand and believe in their value, parents need to be front loaded and given clear expectations, and students need to be given time to practice, practice, practice. This takes professional development, professional commitment and lots of time. It should be something that begins with goal setting and portfolio discussions at the beginning of the year, and there should be consistent build up and conversation opportunities leading up to the actual day. If students, teachers, and parents are not prepared for what should occur, the power is lost and the opportunity might be missed.

Okay, back to what’s coming up for us this week. I want to wish you all fantastic experiences as our kids take center stage, and please view these conversations as celebrations of all the hard work and learning and growth that you’ve helped orchestrate for our kids throughout the year. It’s a celebration of student learning or sure, but also a celebration of all your hard work and passion as educators. Have a fantastic week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…one week left until Spring holiday!

Quote of the Week – 

Student Led Conferences put students in charge of their own learning, give students a better handle on their own progress, and show parents that student achievement is in the student’s hands, not theirs (or the teacher’s) – Dr. Dennis Harper

Related Articles –

Supporting Student Agency

A Key Structure

Resources for Educators

Student Led Meetings

Apps for Student Goal Setting

What is Personalization, Really?

When Students Lead Their Own Learning


Interesting Videos –

Reimagining Classrooms

Inquiry Based Learning

UDL – Principles of Practice

Enabling Voice and Choice Through Projects

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