Students take the lead

By Barb Volbrecht | Middle School, Student Life

Most schools’ parent-teacher conferences last 10-15 minutes and feature a teacher and parent talking about a student’s academic performance. The student may or may not be in the room.

At Prairie, there’s a different approach in the Middle School (MS) and Upper School (US). First, it’s a much lengthier discussion, at least a half hour, maybe longer. Second, “The onus of the conference is on the student,” says Kathy Boero, Head of Middle School who describes the student as, “V.I.P. of the conference. The student’s advisor and parent might ask probing questions, but the student is doing the talking.”

Prior to the conference, all students have received guidance from their advisor, reflected on their progress, and prepared some thoughts that guide the discussion. Boero says the students are well-prepared ahead of time, and during the conference they talk about what’s going well and why, as well as where there’s room for more effort or different strategies.

She says students come up with goals, “with the help of their advisors, and they communicate that with parents who are partners with the students in achieving those goals.” This approach helps students develop leadership and communication skills. Boero says it also “lets them know they have the power, and the need, to develop skills for their own learning.” 

Boero describes the student-led conference as part of the fabric of Middle School. “Those overarching tenets, having to do with self-care, respect for others, and responsibility to the community are part of our culture.”

She stresses the importance of relationships in this process as well. Boero selects teachers to guide each Advisory. These are small groups of 13-16 peers that meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

Students’ personalities and those of the mentors are taken into account to make the best match possible. “There’s a little bit of science involved” in placing students with specific teachers, and also creating diverse student groups. “We want kids to be able to meet new kids,” says Boero.

Students have an Advisory in the US and the make-up of each group is purposefully selected as well.

Listen to Middle School Head Kathy Boero – pictured below during a recent Morning Meeting – discuss Prairie’s unique approach to parent-teacher conferences.