I think conferences often have a negative connotation for educators. I remember in college several teachers share poor experiences, scary stories, and reasons they hated conferences. It was not until my student teaching experience that I witnessed a wonderful example of what conferences can/should look like. My student teacher had 30+ years of experience under her belt and set me up for major success. She removed any concerns I had through her example and the way she framed the experience.
If you are someone who dreads conference season, I hope these tools make you enjoy the process.
1. Use student-led conferences
First, let's define a student-led conference. In my mind, I view it as the meeting being student-led and teacher-guided. This approach is what my student teacher encouraged me to use with conferences. It allows students to take some ownership and responsibility for their work, effort, grade, participation, etc. Students are given the chance to share what is going on with them. I believe student-led conferences are the best approach because they give students a voice. I also believe student-led conferences allow parents/guardians to hear first-hand from the student. Ultimately, the student is the one who is responsible for their situation in the class. I hope this goes without saying, but I do think the teacher is responsible too. However, when working with middle/high school students I hold them to a higher standard than I would an elementary school student. Students can be held accountable for the situation and should be (obviously within reason). I enjoy seeing students talk to their parents/guardians about their class progress. I love watching them point out their work on display in the classroom. I also like to see how the student interacts with their family member(s).
I know some schools do not have students come into the building, and I have a solution for you.
2. Have each student do a self-evaluation
If your students do not come into the building for conferences, I would encourage you to be creative. A few weeks before an upcoming conference, I have my students complete a quick self-evaluation form. You can purchase the exact form I use by clicking this link. This resource is a student-led conferences template.
This resource provides an opportunity for both parties (student and teacher) to be heard. Students have a chance to assess their learning and the teacher is given a voice too. Here's an overview of the resource.
Completely editable/customizable to fit your needs
Google Slides file (could be printed)
Student assessment list
Teacher assessment list
Class grade and goal setting section
Missing assignment section
This resource looks at the strengths and concerns of the student. In the Google Slides format, I added a "highlighter" tool to drag and drop over each section. After the student does a self-evaluation, I use the same template to evaluate them. I have noticed students typically are self-aware enough to know what areas they need to work on. They often have a worse self-evaluation than I would actually give them. ;)
Once the teacher and student complete the form, there is a section to set goals. The one goal is a "student goal" and the other is a "teacher goal." I like to review both of these together and come up with something we can both work on. For example, maybe they have difficulties with writing assignments. A student goal would be to re-read the writing at least twice before submission. The teacher's goal could be to provide additional feedback on an assignment before it is submitted for a final grade. You could adapt these goals for behaviors or be really specific with a certain area to work on in the subject area.
I hope this resource is a starting point for your student-teacher conferences. This template could be used in any course not just English classes. Click here to watch an IGTV video of this resource.
3. Provide a "take-home" item from conferences
The resource above is the perfect item to share with parents/guardians and let them take it home. This digital file could easily be shared via email or you could print the completed form. Having a physical reminder of what you are working on is an excellent takeaway from a conference.
You might be in a school where parents/guardians do not regularly attend conferences. I will still send this form home, so I have some documentation of what the student and I discussed. This is an easy solution to having poor attendance at in-person conferences.
4. Revisit the goals you made
I often get stuck on this step of the process. It's important to revisit the goals you made at a conference in the upcoming weeks. It does not have to be an elaborate meeting. I would suggest taking a class period when students are working independently to check-in with each student one-on-one. I might just pull them up to my desk or a side table to have a quick check-in on where they are at with their goals, what they need help with, and what direction they are currently headed.
After a conference, I feel you almost have what I refer to as "January 1 syndrome." You set these lofty goals, have a plan, hit the ground running, and by January 15 you fell off the bandwagon already. It's ok to fall off the bandwagon, but I think it is important to help students recognize when they have and learn how to practice getting back on track.
5. Celebrate and praise every victory
Conferences should not be strictly a time of negativity. There are good things about every single person. You read that right. I encourage you to find one positive aspect of each of your students. If you are struggling, you are not looking hard enough. Use conferences to praise and celebrate the good you see in your students. You may only see the parents of the students who are doing well, so take the time to praise the student. I love making my students "blush" when a parent/guardian is in and I give them public praise.
My love languages are words of affirmation and quality time, so I know affirming people comes naturally for me. But if that is not one of your strengths, work on practicing praise with your students. We know students need positive reinforcement. So why not use conferences as a time to praise?
Once you set goals and your students make progress toward them, praise them. Correct students for the moments of taking steps backward but do not forget to celebrate those victories. If you only focus on what students are doing wrong, your job will be 100x more exhausting, and "ain't nobody got time for that."
While writing this blog, I kept thinking of a previous blog post I think ties into this one. If you are looking for some ways to build relationships with parents/guardians, I have a blog entitled, "Working as a Team with Parents/Guardians." In this post, I include five ways to take steps to work as a team with parents/guardians.
I hope your conference season is a time for you to build relationships, grown, and establish new routines. Wishing you a wonderful experience! With love and lots of coffee,
Amy (Coffee Stained Lessons)