When I began my career in education, I believed the value I brought to the classroom was my subject area expertise cultivated as an English major at UCLA and my pedagogical expertise honed while working on my teaching credential and Masters in Education. I operated under that misguided assumption for years. I remember feeling intense pressure to have the “right answer” when students asked questions. It was scary not to know because I believed my value was in being the expert. I was wrong.
As I work with teachers navigating the demands of this moment, I share the lesson I learned early on in my career. A teacher’s value lies not in their expertise but in their ability to connect with learners. Our value lies in the human side of teaching. That is the work we do that cannot be replaced by technology.
It is the educators who understand this truth and design and facilitate learning experiences that align with this truth who have had the most success navigating this challenging moment in education.
In my latest book, Balance with Blended Learning, I write about strategies that turn everyday tasks, like giving feedback, assessing student work, and conferencing with students about progress into opportunities for connection. Conferencing sessions are one of the most effective strategies for connecting with learners in class or online.
Like much of the work I do in education, I would love conferencing to prioritize student agency. If we set aside time each month to engage with students in a conferencing format, can we allow them to decide how they want to use that time? I have designed the 4Ps approach to conferencing to guide teachers in running student-centered conferences.
|Purpose||Preparation||Post-Conference Plan||Parent Communication|
|How do students want to use this time? Can you provide options for them to choose from?||What do they need to do to prepare for the conference? Should they bring specific pieces of work or come with questions?||What are the next steps for the student and the teacher following the conference? What will students need to do to “act” on what they learned during the conference? What additional support might the teacher need to provide?||How can students communicate with their parents or guardians about the content of the conference and their next steps? What platform would allow them to send this update about their progress (e.g., email, audio update)?|
Teachers can guide students through these 4Ps using the template below.
First, students select the purpose of their conference time. This choice provides them with agency and recognizes that this time can be used in a variety of ways depending on what individual students need.
Then students prepare for their conference. If they want to discuss their goals and progress, they will need their goal-setting sheet. If they request a 1:1 coaching session, they should have work they are struggling with or questions about specific content or skills they want to focus on. Regardless of the conference’s purpose, I would encourage students to come prepared with at least one question in their preparation column.
This preparation work is best done during class. Again, we make time for what we value, and the more time students invest in the pre-conference work, the more effective the conference is likely to be.
During the Conference
It is ideal if both the teacher and student have access to the planning document during the conference. I have created the template in Google Documents so that it is easy to share a copy with every student. Students can capture their “post-conference plan” or action items during the conference, and the teacher can do the same. I love the implicit message that the teacher and student collaborating on this shared document sends about their partnership in learning.
Immediately following the conference, I would like students to communicate with their parents or guardians about their progress. I want students to own this conversation whenever possible. Can they email their parents or send an audio update describing the purpose of the conference and their plan following the conference?
To create time for conferencing, teachers will have to design learning experiences that allow students to lead the learning. Below are strategies they can use:
- Create a choice board
- Provide a playlist that students can self-pace through
- Engage students in a 5Es student-centered inquiry
- Design a choose your own adventure learning experience
I understand that teachers are short on time, now more than ever. Yet, we make time for what we value. I would love to see teachers design lessons that allow them to connect with individual learners. Human connection and the feeling of being seen and supported are most likely to motivate students to lean into learning. It is easier for students to disengage–decide not to attend class or choose not to complete work–when they do not feel connected to their teacher. This feeling of disconnection can be exacerbated when students are learning online. Conferencing in class or online can help our students feel seen and supported.
For teachers who want more support developing their blended learning and online learning skills to feel more confident teaching in-class, online, on a hybrid schedule, or in a concurrent classroom, I have two self-paced courses available! They are full of video instruction, templates, resources, and action items designed to help you take what you are learning and create things you can use with your students immediately!
Leaders looking to support teachers can inquire about bulk licenses here.
By “end of the year”, do you mean 2020 or the ’20-’21 school year? (As I start teaching a bunch of new preps mid-January, I’m hoping you mean within the next week or so!)
Yes, I should have been more clear. This year…2020 😊 I’ve been working hard to get it out ASAP. I am hoping it will be available by the end of the week. Fingers crossed!
I’m looking forward to it. I spend so much time thinking/living in terms of the school-year that I forget there is another type:)
I get it, Kathrine! My husband is a teacher too and my kids are in school, so we definitely think in terms of the school year schedule here too.
I liked the sheet for conferences. It lets the student have a say in what is talked about. What do you do if a student says they have nothing they want to discuss or just say “I’m good”?
If students don’t have a clear sense of how they want to use the time, I would suggest the teacher take the lead 😊
In a Distance Education program, would you use this same format for virtual ‘office hours’ or how would you suggest organizing office hours in order to ensure that students are receiving the additional support or feedback that they need, remove barriers for those that may or may not be comfortable meeting in a group or for those that don’t show up? How to make virtual office hours meaningful and used by students?
Yes, I would use the 4Ps for online learning too. They are a great way to give students the agency to define how they want to use this time with you. When I hosted office hours, I used Calendly to have students sign up for 5 or 10 minute timeslots. Students were required to meet with me twice each semester, but they could sign up for more time if they wanted it (or I might initiate another session if I felt they needed it). If a student did not show up and the focus was feedback, I would record video feedback and send it to them.
The more agency students have to define how this time is used, the more meaningful it will be. Many of my students reported on their feedback forms that they found our time together helpful and valuable. It was also a great way to build relationships with students learning remotely.
Is scheduling weekly conferences 4-5 students a day realistic? Should I spread it out to meeting with students individually within a two week span?
You can spread out the conferencing process over several days or even weeks, striving to conference with each student every grading period. Conferencing does not need to happen all at once. I actually prefer embedding conferencing into the fabric of the class instead of trying to cram them all into a day or two.