It’s pretty much an open secret that – for whatever reason – more parents of elementary-age students attend parent-teacher conferences than those of secondary students.
All that changed during the spring semester at Great Bend High School when a group of educators was tired of only 30 percent of parents showing up for the important meetings with teachers.
With full support of the administration, the high school moved to student led conferences and the result was stunning.
Instead of one out of three parents attending, the numbers increased to 84 percent attendance.
That’s a whopping 54 percent improvement!
Bill Maddy, Alternative Learning Center teacher, explained the change began with students completing weekly assignments in preparation for the conferences.
Each week during advisory class, the student completed the following:
• Answered reflection questions provided by the advisory teacher,
• Worked on individual goal setting, both short and long term,
• Printed and graphed their grades and
• Discussed current grades and concerns with their advisory teacher.
“At conference time parents were invited to meet with their student and the advisory teacher,” Maddy said. “If a parent wanted to visit with other teachers they could, but it was not required.”
Students presented their folders filled with important examples of academic work, reflection topics and grades to their parents during the 10- to 15-minute sessions.
“These new conferences were student centered and student developed,” Maddy said. “Students led the conference in the presence of their advisory teacher and parents.
“They were responsible for explaining grades for each class,” he said, noting it held the student accountable for work done or not done at school.
At the conclusion of the conference, parents and students created new or additional goals to be met.
The student-led conferences had many positive outcomes, Maddy said.
Not only did it increase parent attendance and involvement, it also increased student accountability.
Organizing the conference also increased student’s interpersonal communication, organizational and goal skills.
Parents also seemed to enjoy the experience.
“I enjoyed the student led conferences,” said Angie Langen, GBHS parent. “It was a new and enjoyable experience for my daughter to be able to tell me where she is at in school.
“I’m glad it’s not just the same old teachers telling me the same old things,” Langen said.
Maddy said the success this spring will lead to repeat performances in the future.
“The key to student-led conferences is that it puts the student – the most important person – in charge,” said Tyler Manwarren, in-school suspension supervisor. “Students are responsible for their own success or failures and with sharing the results with their parents.
“Student accountability is a priority,” Manwarren said. “By shifting control to students, they become more accountable for their own education. Especially in my position, I see students who lack the ability to take responsibility for their actions and consequences. Students now have an opportunity to take ownership of their academics through student-led conferences.”
The student-led conferences were developed by a committee formed during Professional Learning Committee meetings comprised of Maddy, Manwarren, Kristen Baker and Brandon Wells.