|Woodfill teacher Tina Reynolds, parent Stacy Sackenheim and Principal Keith Faust join three students to report on how new student-led conferences went.|
By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor
Most parents know the drill. You take time out of your busy afternoon or evening to come to school. You sit at your child’s desk, and you talk with your child’s teacher one on one, hear how he or she is doing. Hear praise, voice concerns. It’s a good opportunity to touch base and learn how your child is faring.
Educators at Woodfill Elementary School also have welcomed the familiar opportunity for these regular meetings with parents to share student progress and goals.
Yet, this year at Woodfill conferences were very different. No one was sure what would happen. Leadership of the conferences were turned over to the students. The student-led conferences were in keeping with the school’s ongoing Leader in Me program that puts students in charge of their own learning.
Living their mission
"One of the things we are focusing on this year is truly living our mission. Our mission at the school this year is for our staff and students to communicate thoughts and ideas," explained Woodfill Principal Keith Faust.
"Our entire student body shared out during student-led conferences with their parents. It was not lost on us that this was definitely a shift, and we took a leap of faith. We asked our students to participate in student-led conferences knowing that there would be pros and cons but felt this was the best real-world example of how our students could live our mission," he said.
Faust enlisted students, a parent and a teacher to give their perspectives on how the conferences went, and to present the results at the February meeting of the Fort Thomas Independent Schools board.
The students take chargeThree students explained what they shared during the conferences.
"By doing my student-led conference, I learned that I am in charge of my learning. I used my leadership binder to help me communicate my strengths and weaknesses to my parents. My parents were very proud of me...Now that student-led conferences are over, I am going to continue to track my learning. For example, I will continue to track my WIT [writing]. My goal is to be a better writer by the end of third grade," said one student.
Another focused on communication skills. "Today I want to talk about my skills and confidence...I looked at my binder to see what things I wanted to talk about. Then I would get a partner and act like they were a student or a parent..."
"My goal for the second quarter was to become a better basketball player. I did this by practicing for 15 minutes and passing for 10 of those. And I completed that goal," said a third student. "Another thing I explained in my student-led conference is that the reason my attendance should be tracked is the first step to becoming a great student is to be there and be on time."
A parent weighs in
Some parents and teachers were skeptical going into the process.
"My initial reaction when learning that the students were going to be leading their own conferences was, I guess, less than enchanted because, as everyone knows as a parent, it’s difficult to take that time out of your schedule to make an appointment to get to school and then you are hoping to have some one-on-one time with your student’s teacher," said parent Stacy Sackenheim.
Sackenheim has a fourth and a first grader at Woodfill who both participated in the student-led conferences.
"It was surprising to see how much they were able to tell us about their own progress using their accountability binders and learning about all this information they are tracking on their own. So, I would say it was a successful experience," she said.
"I definitely think if you have a child who has an issue, you will have to carve out some special time with the teacher for that but I think that’s probably true in any situation because conferences are brief to begin with. If you want to talk about an issue, you have to schedule a separate meeting anyway," she added.
Another surprise from the conference, she added, was how much the students are learning and absorbing lessons of accountability. "I tend to be very hands on with my children...then at the end of the day I realize I haven’t left room for them to be responsible for things. Seeing all this that they track on their own on a day-to-day basis, I feel like that level of personal responsibility and accountability that they are learning through this is a survival skill they will need going forward... Overall, I feel pretty positive about it," Sackenheim concluded.
Educators share what they learned
Teacher Tina Reynolds said some the concerns she and her colleagues had were similar to those expressed by Sackenheim. "I thought prior to these conferences that the parents would still want one-on-one conferences, and that the kids would only focus on their positives. They would not share concerns or areas of growth with their parents. But neither of those things happened," she said.
What she discovered was students were honest and focused on their goals. "I found during the conferences the parents got more information from the students than they would have from me. They [the students] were very much more academic and growth driven."
She explained. "When I’m with a parent in a conference I might say 'Well, he has a B in writing but I really think he has the potential to get an A so let’s work on that' and that’s kind of where I would stop. But the kids would go to their binders and say 'In September, on my writing piece I scored an 11,' and they would show the rubric and then say 'in October I scored a 13 because I moved idea development from a one to a two.'"
She said the process was much more specific for that individual child. Together the parent and child would discuss what they would work on next. "So that accountability piece is already set for me. The parents now can say 'you said you were working on transitions, are you doing that?' So I know those conversations are taking place at home because they got that information at the conferences from their students not from me...They got tangible things they can work on and improve as they go forward."
Faust said as a first go at the process, overall, the results were positive. He said the educators are still learning about how this major change has affected students, parents and teachers. He and staff are continuing to listen to all involved and fully expect the process to be shaped further as more feedback is collected.