By Nicole Assisi and Sherre Vernon

In a world where young people are creators and consumers of media, where they have to navigate thousands of images and advertisements and hidden agendas on a daily basis, we are obligated to equip them to understand and direct their own experiences.

Student agency can become a schoolwide norm through Student Led Conferences. With a little bit of systems thinking and strategic instruction around this practice, Thrive Public Schools has put students in the driver seat.

At Thrive, a blended learning school in central San Diego, parent conferences have been replaced by Student Led Conferences (SLC). At the conclusion of each grading period, students from grades TK through high school led collaborative meetings in which they review their individualized goals around literacy, numeracy and social emotional growth, examine work as indicators of progress toward goal and set next steps.

We know that good facilitation (even for adults) takes preparation and practice. Here’s how students at Thrive prepare for leading conferences on their own work:

  • The teachers prepare framing documents: agenda, goal setting tools and reflection.
  • Students participate in a teacher-led whole-class discussion on why SLCs are important.
  • Students independently fill out the SLC agenda template with their own information and begin to practice with peers.
  • Students gather evidence to prove their goal mastery to their parents. This may look like a worksheet, images from a presentation, a book they are reading, etc.
  • Students meet individually with their teacher to practice facilitating their SLC.
  • As a class, students watch a video of a successful SLC from a peer, and in small groups discuss warm and cool feedback on that student’s facilitation.
  • Several students role play an SLC as a fishbowl, with some students pretending to be parents, and some students observing.
  • Students hold their scheduled SLCs.
  • Students reflect on the effectiveness of their own SLC and make suggestions for their own improvement at the next conference.

Student Led Conferences 2016

The one goal I have mastered in ______________ is ______________________.

Here is evidence that I have mastered this skill:
Another goal I have mastered in ______________ is ______________________.

Here is evidence that I have mastered this skill:
One goal I am still working on in ______________ is _____________________.

My plan to improve is:
One goal I am still working on in ______________ is _____________________.

My plan to improve is:

In allowing students to lead the conversation about learning, and equipping them to lead those conversations successfully, Thrive teachers like Jamie Pekras-Braun have students who are “beginning to self-monitor and reflect on their progress. They choose their own goals to share with their parents and have a chance to be thoughtful about their strengths and weaknesses.”

Thrive recognizes that SLCs are particularly meaningful for students who wouldn’t naturally elect to be the center of attention.  A first grade teacher, Jamie Pekras, shares that one of her students led his first SLC (his first, first-grade SLC!) at the beginning of the school year.

“It was clear that he was extremely nervous and uncomfortable. He mumbled and read without clarity. He needed teacher support in order to complete the conference. By his third SLC a few short months later, he ran the meeting completely independently. His parents teared up when listening to his confident speaking. Every student is capable of acquiring the skills to speak about their own learning.”

We invite you to visit us at our school site in San Diego, and would love to hear anecdotes from you about Student Led Conferences.

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