Conferences have come and gone for myself and many educators I know, but districts that start later in the year or have conferences after Fall Break may still be in the midst of these important events. For those reading about this topic for the first time, I encourage you to read.
Several weeks before conferences parents were sent home a written letter to rank time options that would work best for their conference, I then scheduled the conferences and reminders were stapled into student’s agendas every week for the next few weeks leading up to conference week. At the time I sent home my parent letter I also began to review the files (both paper and electronic) I keep on conference format, reflection, etc. I reviewed my materials and notes from over the years, as well as parent feedback on ways to improve the conference. I reviewed the student reflection I created from the previous year and began to edit it. This year my district has conferences scheduled for a week before Fall break, not the week after as we have done in previous years. Due to this change students needed to reflect about a quarter of work that was still going on. Additionally, last year I worked through the National Board process and as part of this process I really concentrated on student reflections. When I reviewed my documents from last October I could already see how many adjustments I had made over the past year to student reflections. As a National Board candidate, I also saw the value in attaching work samples to the analysis of students strengths and needs. For the student reflection this year students used their portfolios (filled with work samples) to pull three samples of work that showcased strengths, something that was difficult for them and how they worked hard to grow and learn the concept, something they really enjoyed, etc. and write about why they chose that piece of work and what it represented to them. I modeled how to do this with the students and then gave them time to really look at and evaluate what they wanted to include. Then on the other side of the reflection students evaluated themselves on the basis of a few I Can Statements focused on how they learn, work, organize themselves, and community contributions. They also wrote one goal down for the next quarter and were asked for any areas they needed additional help in or help with certain skills. Finally, students wrote about one way (some wrote even more) they positively contributed to our classroom community.
After reflecting about each conference, the size of the student reflection was appropriate to the time that conferences were scheduled. There was time to go deeper in needed areas or allow a longer conversation about an example. I reviewed all of the reflections before the conferences and also made notes of any particular areas I wanted to focus on with the parents and student as well. Conference time can be particularly stressful or make you feel worn out after spending an afternoon and evening doing them, but what I love the most about this conference format is how excited I leave work each day. This is what it is all about…students making connections, learning, growing, working with families, and the team all being focused on this one student’s education. I asked my students the next day what their thoughts were and even my most anxious and nervous student said it wasn’t stressful like they thought it was. Not every conference is all roses, but students who knew concerns would be discussed said after they felt better because they knew what was said and what is more important is those students saw the concern from their family and teacher because we care about them and want the best for them. Student accountability increases with student-led conferences and also allows students to celebrate their accomplishments and learning with the team. Parent, Susan Craig, shared with me, “I really like the student-led format and think it’s great for students to rate themselves and reflect. Using their own hand-picked work examples is an added bonus. Thank you for your research and leading the effort to implement this conference format.”
Share with me below how you format conferences and if you would be willing or already use student-led conferences.
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