Albemarle School Takes New Approach to Parent-Teacher Conference - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Albemarle School Takes New Approach to Parent-Teacher Conferences

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Parent-teacher conferences can be stressful for all involved, but they're important for keeping up with the progress of each student. Now,  a school in Albemarle County has an innovative approach to these sometimes dreaded meetings - and it's getting national attention.

At Greer Elementary School they now let the students lead the conferences with their parents. This method was first piloted in the spring of 2010 and it has since led to much success.

"With each year it's gotten logistically easier to put on and easier, more meaningful for both teachers and families and students," said Elizabeth Korab, assistant principal at Greer. 

"When done well, we really believe this drives our instruction because it really centers around student goal setting and student reflection on work," Korab said. "And so, when teachers are intentional about using that in their instruction students can really learn to talk to their growth not only in a small goal related to that day but also in the bigger context as well."

The way that student-led conferences are held varies in different classrooms and with different age groups. The preschool students often lead the conferences by showing their parents around, teaching them how to use their classroom technology, and telling them what their favorite lessons are. Older students may show their parents graphs, charts, videos, and other examples of their work and how it has improved.

"That first year we held student-led conferences, I know students were very nervous about talking to their parents, but now it's really become a conversation where students are really in the drivers seat about what they're doing," Korab said.

Greer reading intervention teacher Sarah Scott said students and teachers have grown a lot since hosting student-led conferences. "When we first started, we had the children saving worksheets or tests that they wanted to show their parents, and now our student-led conferences have really changed the way we think about our instruction, so now we have a lot of graphs, we have a lot of rubrics, we have a lot of material that shows growth," she said.

Scott said her school is the most diverse in Albemarle County and having students lead the conferences helps avoid language barriers.

"One of the really special things about Greer is how many languages we have here, so when we're preparing our fall conferences it takes a lot of effort and a lot of help for people to get all of the translators so that we have parents that understand everything that that saying," Scott said. "In our spring student-led conferences it's different because the students are the ones doing the conferences so they're able to speak in their native language."

Having student-led conferences also keeps the students accountable for their progress, Scott said. 

"I've seen a huge shift in the way that teachers are having conversations with students about their growth, about how they can make growth, I've seen students take more ownership about their own learning and really motivated to want to improve, and i think it's built a much stronger connection with our families," said Scott. "Families feel more comfortable coming in to school and listening to their students point of view of their education."

The staff at Greer presented on the student-led conferences at a professional development conference and there was quite a bit of interest from other schools in the area about their approach. They will now present at a national conference in Baltimore on November 18 and 19.

Meanwhile, schools all throughout the region are having conferences with parents this week. For those parents who want to be prepared in advanced, Charlottesville's LearningRX has some tips.

Dargan Coggeshall, the executive director of LearningRX, said parent teacher conferences are a great opportunity to collaborate with the school and with your child's teachers. He said you should use that time wisely, go in with an open mind and don't put the teacher or yourself in a defensive role.

"This is a 20 minute opportunity to get a window into your children's learning," Coggeshall said. "Have both parents involved - if that's possible. A Department of Education Study shows the number one driver, or determining factor of academic success, in schools is the extent of parent involvement, so it's critical that parents take it seriously."

In order to prep properly, Coggeshall suggests parents bring all of the information that they know about their child from previous years: previous diagnoses, previous results or performances. He also said you should review all of the current year's tests and materials.

"Make sure when you go in to use the time, you're not asking questions that you should already know the answer to," said Coggeshall.

Another important tip is to include your child in the conversation. Talk to your child before you go to the parent-teacher conference, and find out how they're doing socially. Parents should also share with the teachers if there are any changes in the child's life, like a move or a death in the family that could be impacting their learning in the classroom.

Finally, Coggeshall suggests always following up after a conference. 

"Have a next step with the teacher, establish another check-in. These are formal periods when parents and teachers are getting together, but that doesn't mean that you have to wait another six months for the next parent-teacher conference, so establish a plan and a check-in," said Coggeshall. 

At Greer, fall parent-conferences led by teachers start Wednesday. Student-led conferences will be held again in the spring.

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