Building Student Empowerment

It was my first year of teaching and I was a little nervous and very excited about my first parent-teacher conferences. 3 parents out of my 27 students showed up. Three. Other experienced teachers at my school said that wasn’t unusual. What?! Something was wrong. 30+ years later. . . I have 100% parent participation.
How to get 100% parent attendance and participation? A slight shift in the traditional conference: conferences run by students instead of teachers. “When students must report to their families what they're learning—what skills and understandings they have, what areas still challenge them, and where they hope to get to—they must understand their own learning and progress. They take pride in what they can do and take responsibility for what they need to work on. Education stops being something done to them and begins being something that they are leading.” (Educational Leadership, Vol. 71, No. 6)

Although students are initially shy about leading their conference, they develop their leadership skills, build critical thinking and reflection skills. Their families are more connected to the growth of their child and students have more buy-in to their own learning.
My students take charge of their learning through the use of portfolios. They are continuously examining and reflecting on their work, comparing the quality of it to the standards. How to select learning goals and develop a plan of action is explicitly modeled and taught. Their portfolios reflect their progress toward their self-selected goals with tangible evidence such as student work, photographs, and even letters signed by classmates (if they were working on a goal such as teamwork or sportsmanship). It is so exciting to watch and listen to fourth graders lead their parent conferences; sharing their self-report card and proudly discussing their growth! Areas of need are shared as goals, as child, parents, and teacher also give input. Kids are usually brutally honest about their progress (often much harder on themselves than I am!), yet they take pride in all that they have accomplished. Although I allot a few minutes at the end of each conference if parents want to speak to me privately, but they usually do not have questions about grades after their child has shared. Parents always leave the conference impressed with their child’s honest self-evaluation. It is so heartwarming to see each student shine!

As students learn about setting goals, we use this acrostic GOALS sheet and put into the back cover of their portfolios. To grab a copy of this GOALS sheet in color and B & W, click on the image below or click HERE
To read more in-depth "how to" initiate student-led conferences, click on the links below.
For the complete Student Learning Portfolios resource, click HERE or on the image below.
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  1. I love doing student led conferences!

    1. Same!! What format do you use? I always love hearing about different ways to implement!

  2. I agree! Students are so brutally honest about their own progress. I'm sure your students feel so empowered by taking charge. Thank you so much for sharing about your student led parent conferences. Jen :)

    1. Thanks, Jen! Students are scared at first, but then they LOVE sharing their progress!

  3. Such a wealth of information here. You're posts are always so helpful. Student empowerment is so needed,esp in this day and age.