Confidence is one of our core values at The Cloverleaf School, along with the development of self- esteem, self- advocacy, and self-reliance in each student. The staff had this in mind when the parent conferences were structured. What better way to encourage these values than to coach each student to lead his own parent conference? Through this process each student has the opportunity to develop communication skills, build self confidence, and take ownership of his learning.
In preparation for the student-led conferences, each student began spending considerable time self-reflecting, creating goals, and reviewing his work samples. He wrote down his strengths and goals for each class. As their teacher I was amazed to see their emerging honesty and self- awareness. One student wrote “I want to make a terrarium and explain how it works” and another put down “I need to work on spelling the ending of words.” Social goals included the strength “I’m doing better at ‘staying calm” and the goal “I think I still need to work on [being] ‘more patient with friends.” I was thrilled with the students’ growth in articulating their strengths and areas for growth.
Conference day arrived, and I could see traces of anxiety on the faces of each parent as they arrived. This day is never easy for parents of children with special needs. However, the students’ faces were glowing! At the beginning of each conference the student shared his strengths and goals with his parents. Then, each showed the work in his portfolio. It was gratifying to see the students eagerly read their stories or beam as a spelling test was held high…. genuine pride in their own work! With the students off to play, the teachers shared with the parents their input on the student’s progress, and assessments were reviewed. Last, the team (parents, teachers and the student) created one social goal and one academic goal for the remainder of the semester. This proved to be a strategic moment in every conference! Although throughout the conference we’d identified several areas for growth together, it was interesting to see what would become the two key semester goals for each student.
Moving forward, these two personal key semester goals permeate our day as students take ownership of them. Each student knows his goal, and there is a constant dialogue between students and teachers: “Are you working on your goal?” or “This is a great opportunity to practice.” We also share in our success: “Guess what? I remembered my backpack AND lunchbox today!” As their teacher I look forward to creating progress monitoring tools with each student so we can visually show mastery of goals at the end of the year.
Reflecting on the entire conference experience at The Cloverleaf School this February, my favorite part was watching the conversations between students and parents. “So, are you proud of me? “Yes, we are SO proud of you!” What an amazing affirmation of student progress and success!