It’s election time in South Africa and the country is abuzz with political conversation and debate. Everyone wants to feel as though they have had their say, even if having their say means not making an appearance at the polls. Either way, the current state of leadership in our country has been heavily compromised over the last few years and we as a nation can only but hope in the promise of a new day, and become agents of change within our own capacities -be the change we want to see, in our own way and in our own community.
As a teacher, I have been deeply impacted by the poor showing of our youth at the polls. And whilst I respect the democratic right to choose to not vote, and I certainly recognize and empathize with the plight of our youth in this country – I cannot help but believe in our future generation and am saddened by their lack of belief in themselves and the power that their voice holds. I know that some may argue that by choosing to stay away, their silence in itself speaks a powerful message, I still worry about those who feel that there is “just no point to it all.” Empowering our youth to recognize the power of their voice and to value that takes work – work that begins in our schools. Work that involves a collaborative and supportive effort between teachers and parents to encourage student-parent-teacher conversation and dialogue.
For years, parent-teacher conferences have been the the norm in terms of school to home communication about the progress of individual learners. Very often, the conversation is centered on how both the teacher and parent/s view a child’s current performance and ability, with very little feedback ever being presented back to the child. How the child reflectively views themselves, their individual strengths and weaknesses and their desired goals for themselves is left out of the equation and their own voice is silenced. However, Student Led Conferences is a global trend in education that aims to drastically and positively change this.
A year ago, my school decided to boldly give our learners a chance to lead the conversation. Having recently sat through my third round of these conferences, I can honestly say that I am blown away by just how well each child manages to rise to the occasion and take accountability and control over their own learning outcomes. Held at the end of the first term and again at the end of the year, the children are given time to reflect on their performance and abilities, set personal goals for themselves that are individually driven, and come up with practical plans of action to help them get there. The power does not lie in the conversation itself, but in the personal ownership and self-advocacy that this platform generates.
Witnessing a child express to their parents what they feel they have excelled in and what they feel that they can improve on is inspiring. In some cases, this is actually the very first time that children and parents are actively engaging in positive conversation that centers completely on the child’s learning experience. Children are given the opportunity to express to their parents who they are as a learner- how they learn best, what they benefit from and what they would like assistance with. Feedback from so many of my parents indicates that they are given an opportunity to see their child in a way that they have never seen before – that they are self-assured, honest and empowered. From a classroom perspective, these conferences have also enhanced the level of individual focus that is placed on each child and their goals – when a goal is set not only by the teacher but from the heart of the child, the value of that goal drastically increases. Suddenly, there is a personal investment and a sense of teamwork grows.
Lets us not underestimate our children. By creating platforms within our schools for children to develop confidence in speaking about themselves, valuing themselves and encouraging accountability – we as teachers are able to positively giveback to the future generation. There is work to be done so let’s go out and make the difference!