Student Empowerment as a Model for Student-Led Conferences

I vividly remember pacing the floors as a child, anxiously awaiting my mom’s return from my school’s bi-annual parent-teacher conferences. When I greeted her at the door, the begging began. “Tell me every detail. What did she say about me? How am I doing?”
I badgered her with questions that would give some indication as to whether I was measuring up to the expected progress. My academic development was a mystery and my growth was determined by an outside judge who did not allow me to be part of the assessment process. I reflect on these childhood memories as missed opportunities: Had my teacher given me a role in conference discussions, I may have identified areas calling for improvement and created a plan to push myself even further in my learning. I was pleading to be let in on the secret so I knew in which areas I needed to grow.
In a school committed to deeper learning, student empowerment in support of the educational journey is essential. By allowing students to take the driver’s seat in the conference model, they can authentically reflect on personal achievements and challenges. While open houses are exhibitions where students showcase work done well, the student-led conference is a time to make connections between effort and the quality of work. When students select work samples that represent strengths as well as areas in which they are struggling, ownership over the story of their success is heightened. Future learning is increased when students are made keenly aware of the academic approach, mindset, or study skills needed to make a change.
Embracing a student-led conference model requires a shift on the part of the parent. As the mother of an 11-year-old, I have to force myself to resist reaching out to the teacher to ask, “Just tell me, how my child is doing?” or, “How is she behaving?” As an educator, I know if I hand over the autonomy to my daughter, she will self-advocate her needs for support.
As parents deeply invested in the success of our children, learning how to change our questions will contribute to the end goal of raising independent, reflective, successful learners. Beyond participating in Dawson’s student-led conferences, parents can continue valuable conversations at home by asking questions such as:
  • What did you do well?
  • How did it feel to be successful?
  • How can you build on that experience?
  • With what are you struggling?
  • What is your plan for improvement? 
Ownership is the key to individual growth. Allow your child to have agency over their learning journey and lifelong benefits will follow. 

-By Roxanne Stansbury, Head of School

The Alexander Dawson School

The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.