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PSSST... It's SLC Time!

Tim Betzala
Mission Principle: Compelling and Connected Academic Program
Upper School Co-Head Tim Betzala explains why Student-Led Conferences are a win-win-win proposition.
Parents new to Pacific Ridge probably take notice when we host our fall parent-teacher conferences. Ours are called Parent-Student-Teacher (PST) conferences and students are invited (and encouraged) to attend. This may be a new experience, both for the parents and for their child. 

In the spring, we host conferences again. This time, not only do students attend conferences, but they play the lead role. April’s Student-Led Conferences (SLCs) allow students to review their performance and goals in a meeting they host for their parents and their advisor.

Why do we handle conferences this way?

There are multiple reasons, but the primary one is straightforward and simple: We believe students benefit enormously when they take responsibility for their own learning.

In a recent article in Educational Leadership, San Diego State University professors Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, and University of Melbourne’s John Hattie argue that school and individual student achievement are greatly increased when students are “assessment capable” learners, specifically:

  • Students know their current level of proficiency and see the learning path ahead.
  • They choose tools and resources (a writing rubric, for example) to guide their learning.
  • They are confident about taking on academic challenges.
  • They seek feedback and treat mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • They monitor their progress and make necessary adjustments.
  • They have a metacognitive sense of what they are learning and can teach others.

While these characteristics are promoted in our classrooms on a daily basis, involving students in more formal reflections such as PSTs and SLCs amplifies the benefits by encouraging them to examine the arc of their learning during the year and share their thoughts about it.

According to Frey, Fisher and Hattie, the most impactful “assessment capability” to come out of their research is “students’ ability to report thoughtfully on their own performance.”

Sounds a lot like a Student-Led Conference.

Might the student’s presence prevent a candid discussion between parents and teachers?

Since instituting PSTs and SLCs in 2015, we have found this not to be the case. Teachers already give students regular, candid feedback and don’t shy away from sharing their thoughts with parents. Parents can ask tough questions and provide insight as well. The difference is that they are talking with the students instead of about them. Parents, students and teachers have the opportunity to form a unified team in support of the student’s learning goals.

What does the student add to the conversation?

Not surprisingly, students know a lot about their own learning experience. Hearing what they are interested in, are proud of or challenged by is extremely helpful for both parents and teachers.

For parents, the formal setting provides an opportunity to learn something about their child’s experience that they may not have heard at home.

For teachers, PSTs and SLCs present important learning data they can use to reflect on the curriculum and their own teaching methods. The impact of student input, according to Frey, Fisher and Hattie, is far superior than when “the person at the center of the discussion is relegated to a passive role.”

What’s in it for the student?

In addition to practicing the assessment-capable skills discussed above, participating in PSTs and SLCs promotes a growth mindset - a learning attitude we firmly espouse at Pacific Ridge. Students can see areas of strength alongside areas that need improvement. They can see progress and understand how it relates to effort. They can see challenges in the context of the whole. And, they are encouraged to set goals for themselves and map out how to reach them.

This year’s Student-Led Conferences take place tomorrow, Friday, April 20.

Tim Betzala
Co-Head of Upper School