Student-led Conferences - The Opinions of the Student Body & Mr. Rogers' Response
Written by Kaya Long with interview assistance from Acacia Blyth
Last week students in grades 6-11 participated in student-led conferences. Noticeably, during the lead-up to these conferences, there were mixed feelings amongst the students. Out of curiosity, Parker Press distributed both a pre-conference and post-conference survey to give students an opportunity to voice their opinions. In addition, we interviewed Mr. Rogers to hear his perspective.
Of the 79 survey respondents, 26.6% said that they completely understood the reasons for these conferences, while the remaining 73.4% felt that it was unclear. When students were asked if they personally found value in the conferences, 8.9% answered that they definitely did, while 43% said they didn’t. One student said that the conference “shows that you are taking charge and thinking about what you need to work on.” Another student expressed that they feel “students know what they are good at and what they struggle with and we either do not care, or we are already trying to fix it.”
According to Mr. Rogers, the conferences are ideally for students to “process” the grades and feedback they have received. In addition he believes that the conferences “force them to confront” how they are doing in the class and are a way of “getting them to own [their performance.]”
Another thought conveyed by a student is “I think they are a better fit for students that aren't doing well in school.” However, Mr. Rogers stated that he “strongly disagrees” with that statement because “not all learning is about content learning.” He says that these conferences teach you “life skills” and are an opportunity to practice reflecting on who you are as a learner.
Interestingly, in the post-conference survey, 44.1% of the 34 respondents reflected that they now see somewhat of a greater value in the conferences now that they have done them, while 23.5% say they definitely do.
Based on the pre-conference survey results, it was evident that a majority of students found the preparation for the conferences to be stressful. On a scale of 1-10 (ten being the most stressed), 64.1% of students rated their extra stress level at a 7 or above, while the remaining 35.9% rated their stress at a 6 or below. The common opinion was the conferences are “ another stressor to add onto the pile” and “inflicting uncalled for anxiety on all ready [sic] stressed students.” However, a few students expressed that they felt “excited” for the conferences and another person said that they were “Looking forward to a free day and to present for just twenty minutes.”
When asked about his general thoughts on the stressful element of these conferences, Mr. Rogers said “I think that for individual students, the stress that they had was self-imposed,” but he hopes that the conferences can act as an opportunity for students to communicate the things that make them stressed.
A very popular topic that came up in the surveys was confusion surrounding the timing of the conferences along with requests for more time to prepare. Many students wish that “this idea was introduced at the beginning of the year” and not “at the end of 3rd quarter.” One student thinks “they should not take place in the final and most stressful quarter with the heaviest workload.”
In response, Mr. Rogers says that “we thought teachers [and students] needed much more preparation because the only time we would have had to unveil it was going to be right after the December holidays.” He also said that they were scheduled for that specific week “due to interim.”
We talked with a few Hui Malama mentors on campus to hear their thoughts about student-led conferences. One teacher feels that “Student led conferences are a fantastic idea”, and “engaging with your education apart from ’what's my grade’ builds critically-thinking, problem-solving, compassionate individuals.” One teacher noted that “students would have benefited from having an entire school year to prepare and curate their work. This would also have supported student confidence.”
Fortunately, a little over half of the students who responded to the second survey felt that the conference went better than expected. Additionally, 61.7% of the 34 respondents said that they at least somewhat learned something about themselves through this process.
Going forward, Mr. Rogers says that we are going to continue having student-led conferences. He also says that next year, conferences will be “more predictable and more structured.” All in all, Mr. Rogers says, “This is the students’ education and I think that they need to be a much bigger part of it.”