Student-Led Conferences: To Do or Not To Do?

By Nancy Mikhail

Parents walk into their child’s classroom on parent-teacher conference day. Teachers sit across from parents and start telling them how their child is doing in class. This is the standard format for parent-teacher conferences. This is what we are all used to. But what if we could make it better? What if we let students lead the conferences instead?

Student-led conferences are when the student, teacher, and parents sit together to review how the student has been doing in class, and the student takes an active role in the meeting. This new model replaces the traditional parent-teacher conference, where the student often does not say much or may not even be present.

Based on the article by Mindshift, there are schools that are very successful with student-led conferences. Peter Hill, a teacher at Kings Middle School says that student-led conferences are “one of the most important things we do to have students own their own learning.” Students are eager to tell and show their parents how well they are doing in the classroom. Parents learn to “appreciate the new process” too (Mindshift).

Student-led conferences require more work than some teachers may realize. It takes time and preparation in order to make these conferences as positive and productive as possible. Teachers need to coach students to ensure they are sharing their strengths and weaknesses with their parents. There are different ways to accomplish this:

  • Have your students write down three goals they would like to accomplish by the middle (or: end) of the year and share them with their parents
  • Help students set up binders at the beginning of the school year where they can collect their work. (According to an article in Edutopia, Laura Hayden, a 7th grade teacher in Kansas, uses this approach. She has her students include their work, quizzes, projects, and tests to share with their parents during conference time.
  • Have your students write a reflection of their progress thus far and share it with their parents
  • Practice the student-led conference with your students beforehand
  • Have students fill out a “cheat sheet” to help them remember what they should discuss with their parents

“As kids learn to advocate for themselves in this way, they discover how to let their parents know more specifically how to support them” (Mindshift). This is a great way for students to develop stronger verbal communication skills so they can communicate more effectively with their parents and let them know what they need.

If parent-teacher conferences appear to have been working and they seem to “do the job,” why change the format of the conferences? Here are some reasons to reconsider:

  • Student accountability is increased (or: clarified and increased)
  • Students are more motivated to take control of their learning
  • A higher percentage of parents attend the conferences
  • Students practice real-life skills: communication, organization, and leadership
  • Students learn self-evaluation and self-reflection skills
  • Student progress is the focus of the conference

Teachers who have implemented student-led conferences report more satisfaction with these types of meetings. In an Education World article, Keith Eddinger explains that, “from a teacher’s perspective, we were able to get a better picture of each child. It forced us to sit down with each student and review strengths and weaknesses. This conversation often told us the students learned more than perhaps we had measured through conventional assessments.” Student-led conferences are a great way to have your students take charge of their own learning as well as to develop important skills such as verbal communication and self-advocacy.

What’s your take on student-led conferences? Do you think they should be teacher or student-led? Or maybe a little bit of both?

Here are some fantastic resources to help you plan and implement student-led conferences:

This is a great handbook with several templates to use for conferences:

Sample questions for student-led conferences:

Student-led conference outline:

Student reflections on each subject:

Portfolio assessment: