No reflection last week (actually two weeks ago) as we had our annual retreat called ‘The Forward.’ It was the first Forward in 3 years that I wasn’t busy running around filming stuff. It was nice to leave the camera at home and not constantly be wondering ‘is there anything else I could be filming.’
This upcoming week we have student led conferences. Here’s our prompt for the week:
We have student led conferences this week.
What do you feel we do well when it comes to the conferences? What is missing from them?
Do you have any stories of challenging conferences you’ve gone through and how you handled them (for better or worse)? Do you have any stories of really wonderful moments during these conferences?
WHAT WE DO WELL
I think the fact that we take two days off school to have these student led conferences speaks to the value we put on them. When I was teaching 5th grade in public school, we had them but we were part of a huge district and not every school did them. We didn’t have the power to just say ‘no school for a couple days’ so they ended up being during the day and we would set a desk out in the hall. Parents would come by during class and their child would go out in the hall and they would sit at that desk and have the conference for 20 or so min. The student would share work from their portfolio but that’s about it. There wasn’t much of a reflection piece involved, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing or how to make the conferences meaningful, particularly since I wasn’t out there with them.
I’ve been having my advisory go through this reflection sheet that has them think through how they’re doing academically, socially, and emotionally. I encourage younger students to be more thorough in their answers and the older ones can just put bullet points as they generally can just begin conversing about the topics during the conference; the younger ones tend to just read what they wrote down and move onto the next question.
I think it’s great that we allow parents to sign up for a time slot that’s convenient for them to get a little more buy in.
This past year we started to include teacher comments in the student conference, which I feel was a big missing piece in the past. Now instead of writing comments about student behavior and habits that go on the report card, sometimes never to be seen, they’re included in the student-led conference. It helps with those students who may struggle to be completely candid with how things may be going in particular classes.
I really think we do a great job of making it genuinely student led. The student is doing 90% of the talking in the conference and I always let parents know that this isn’t a parent-teacher conference in that it’s not about me and the parent talking to each other about the child, but the child talking to the both of us. Parents can ask questions and will sometimes give micro-lectures (sometimes they’re needed) and I will sometimes ask students to elaborate on particular things but that’s usually about it. In advisory last week I told students they’re a lot less likely to get a lecture from their parents if they just own up to whatever mistakes / weaknesses they may have instead of creating excuses.
WHAT’S MISSING / COULD BE IMPROVED
What’s a bit frustrating is that some parents will see student-led conference days as a four-day vacation and not actually schedule a conference in those days but ask to do it another time. This hasn’t happened to me to the point where it’s become a big issue (maybe 1-2 families per conference week) but I know some other teachers have had to reschedule with five or six families, which ends up eating into their prep periods or lunches the following weeks. I did appreciate one family this year reaching out and letting me know they were planning a trip but could push it back a day if it was easier for me to see them on the first day of conferences than to schedule a time outside of those two days. It was the only family this year that I ended up having to meet outside of those days. I know high school families have a lot less buy. Not sure how to improve the culture around that.
Also the process for all the teachers sharing comments about students is a bit of a mess. We currently all feed our comments into one spreadsheet where each grade is it’s own tab on the spreadsheet. Ideally, everyone puts them in and then advisors go in and share the comments with each of their advisees for the to include in their reflection document. The issue comes when you have people that aren’t super tech savvy messing around in a spreadsheet and accidentally deleting or overwriting other teachers comments. We thought about maybe a Google Form but that’d be time consuming to put the name, grade, class period, and comment for each student in each class.
I don’t have any stories of challenging conferences from my 3 years of doing them at my school. I’ve heard stories of really tense conferences where parents that were in the middle of a divorce started arguing and blaming each other for the child not doing well. Other teachers have told me how they’ve had to really work to advocate and stand up for their advisees when parents would just want to lay into them and speak negatively down to them. I imagine that’s an interesting line to try and walk.
What I’ve really enjoyed is seeing the progression of these conferences of my advisees from the first semester conference of 6th grade to the last semester conference of 8th grade. Last year I had my first group that had been with me all the way through middle school. Some of the parents had commented how that very first conference, the child was so nervous and just reading the prep sheet and by the end of 8th grade it was such a comfortable environment with a lot of laughing and natural conversation on how the student was doing. I do look forward to those two days, not only because I don’t have to teach, but it’s great to give students that 30-45 minutes where they get our undivided attention. It’s surprisingly a tiring couple of days even though I’m not the one that’s “on.”