When we opened our school, we knew that there was a lot we wanted to do to re-imagine the learning experience for modern learners. This meant assessing what schools “do” and what made sense to continue to do.
One of the issues we wanted to address was “traditional” parent-teacher conferences. What our collective experience as school employees and parents informed us that Parent Conferences essentially meant 1 of 4 main things:
Yet, as a new school, we found ourselves still working within an established and larger system that set aside specific dates for “Parent Conferences” with attached Minimum Day bell schedules and Teacher Contract language associated with them.
So we began to ideate. How might we make a more meaningful experience out of Parent Conferences? We started by researching options such as “Student Led Conferences” (SLC’s) made popular by different progressive education outlets.
While intrigued by SLC’s, we were hesitant because while the onus shifted from teacher to student-talk, it still seemed like an isolated event. Students, instead of their teachers, reported about their successes, struggles and other issues -- but all still in private.
Since Project Based Learning (PBL) is important to us, and an essential element of PBL is “public audience,” we prototyped a riff off of SLC’s where a student would prepare a presentation about their learning and give this presentation publicly to their family and invited friends, a teacher, and three other families. Students are given a template to help structure their 5-7 minute presentation, but allowed the latitude to tell their story in their way. Students talk about how they are doing academically, where they are exceeding and show evidence for it. Where are they struggling, and what is their plan for improving. Students also talk about their relationship with the core values (GILLS) of the school. What core value have they been challenged by and what is their plan to improve. What core value are they best exemplifying and what is the evidence to prove it? Students also discuss in general about what their challenges are and where they have grown over their time at the school.
These experiences are called “Celebrations of Learning” and we began doing them in the Spring of 2015 (our first year).
When we opened our 4th year of the school, we thought about authenticity a lot. Both in the projects & prototypes students made, but also in what we were asking the students to reach and do. We agreed that it would be meaningful if the adults stepped up and engaged in their own Celebrations of Learning (COL’s) in front of our peers. On November 6th, 2017, we did just that. Four members of our Staffulty took about 25 minutes during a meeting and presented to their peers. There were tears, there was vulnerability, there was open-honesty, there was humor; but most of all there was love and appreciation. The Staffulty who gave their COL’s gained empathy for what we ask our students to go through on four occasions during their time at our school. The audience gained respect and appreciation for their colleagues stepping well out of the comfort zone. Some of the email comments that followed summed up the experience well:
“I just wanted to thank the brave souls that shared their COL this morning with the staff. Thank you for showing us a side of you that we don't always get to see and being VULNERABLE. I was so impressed. I feel more and more like family here and I'm so grateful to be a part of this great work that we do. I was again inspired by the power of a Celebration of Learning. I can't wait to see what the kids come up with this week.”
“This morning's Adult COLs profoundly touched me. The personal reflections were courageous, humorous, and touching. I was also moved by those in the room that listened attentively and supported our colleagues as they shared about themselves.”