Student-Led Conferences are now a staple in most schools, yet I hear from many parents that they still find these non-traditional conferences very confusing. The top comment is that parents aren’t really sure what exactly they should be doing. Well, here are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to lead you to a parenting win at your child’s next student-led conference.
Attend! – This sounds simple enough, but in the flow of the school year many parents may feel that things are going well and there isn’t much to say about your child that you haven’t already heard. It’s also highly possible that you’re leading busy lives with extra-curricular activities and sibling events. While this may be true, you should view this opportunity in that your child has a starring role in a one-person play. I don’t think anyone would want their child to do without an audience as they took the stage for their big night.
Listen In – The star of the show will be well-prepared to share the best of what they’ve got and they’re anticipating an attentive audience. In their excitement, they are very likely going to whip through things really fast. In many cases they will have a script or agenda to run down and they may be overly eager to get through it all. Stick with them and pick out some key points to refer back to. Pro tip – leave your phone in the car.
Ask Questions – When you get that right break in the action, and after you tell them how happy you are with their work, keep the conversation going with some key questions. Depending on the age, they may lead you with “so this is my writing” before they start flipping through the pages. On the other end, they may begin their sharing with a complex review of curricular outcomes which can sounds just like boring technical language. Some great questions might include the following:
Focus on Conversation with the Teacher – This particular evening is not the time for you to review your child’s progress with the teacher. Your child has spent a long time preparing for your visit and they’re expecting to be the star of the show. If you feel that a separate conversation is needed, just indicate this to the teacher at the end of your visit, or send them an email at another time and make a time to chat about your questions or concerns.
Compare Your Child’s Work to their Peers – Since many student-led conferences are set up in open house style format, the work of all students will likely be on display. While you may be inclined to compare, keep the focus on your own child. In that brief moment when you switch your attention to another child’s work, your own child will recognize that you’re sizing up their work up. Students don’t like to be judged at any time, let alone on the night where they have you all to themselves.
Focus on Little Mistakes – In browsing through your child’s work, you might notice some particular pieces that might not reflect their best work. You can easily encounter spelling errors, rushed drawings, mathematical miscalculations, incomplete assignments, teacher comments, and graded assessments. In fact, you will likely encounter more imperfect work than perfect work. Keep in mind that you’re looking at assignments in various stages of progress so don’t derail a great evening by focusing on the one or two things your child didn’t really prepare for you to see.
Thank you in advance for making your child the star of this conference. From a teacher perspective, student-led conferences as one of the highlights of the year because each child has a chance to share their day-to-day life in school with the most important people in their lives. Hopefully you might use this advice to make your visit a memorable one. Finally, if you really want to get it to the next level, taking your kid for an ice cream after the conference may just put you in parent-of-the-year territory. Enjoy!
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.