Want to boost test scores? Shine with better class attendance? Teach in a classroom full of wonder and rigor? Me, too! But is that even possible? While our classrooms are all a work in progress, test scores, class attendance, and student engagement are heavily influenced by teacher-student relationships. As teachers, we know strong relationships with students start with spending time and getting to know them. One of the best ways to do this is by hosting individual conferences with students as part of your classroom routine.
An individual conference with students is a strategy where teachers and students meet one-on-one for a set period to discuss specific items. By conferencing with students, teachers get targeted feedback and focused insight into their thinking. Additionally, students see that their teacher can be trusting and supportive. If I want to build authentic relationships with my students, I set up individual conferences.
Typically, I begin individual student conferencing during the first three weeks of school and implement them twice per quarter. I start early in the school year so students become accustomed to meeting with me and mature in their reflection skills, allowing us to deepen our teacher-student relationship.
My students adore participating in individual conferences. It keeps our dialogue going on a level they might not consistently achieve within a larger class setting. I enjoy individual conferences because my time spent with students helps me structure a student-driven curriculum that directly impacts their academic and social well-being.
Once you start with individual conferencing, you will want to continue—and so will your students. Students bloom with self-confidence as they navigate ways to engage with you and take some ownership of their learning. Start with a fun, easygoing individual conference and build toward more academic-focused discussions. You’ll be amazed to see how individual conferences become the golden centerpiece of your classroom.
For successful individual conferences with students, the following six steps help put us on the right path to strong relationship building:
1: Prepare Yourself
Decide the purpose of the student-teacher conference. Is it for building relationships? If so, create a low-stakes hobby survey or a fun, creative writing prompt. Then, from the student work examples, determine a question you want to explore deeper. What would you like to know about your students? How can knowing this information help you create more opportunities for academic and social-emotional success? Whatever you decide, the question will be the same for every student and be the focus of the individual conference.
2: Set the Schedule
It is good practice to keep the individual conference short but meaningful. Most range from three to four minutes per student. Since most of us have larger classes, split the individual conference schedule into two or three groups. I schedule my individual conferences for 30 minutes twice in the same week so that everyone is completed. Typically, I construct the survey on Monday, deliver it to students on Tuesday, review it on Wednesday, and then, on Thursday and Friday, schedule my 30-minute conference windows. While this might seem like a great deal of work, it pays off—big time!
3: Prepare Your Students
Explain that the strategy of individual conferences is about building relationships and having time to express themselves with you on a one-on-one basis. Before I begin individual conferences, I establish ground rules with my students, ensuring they can work independently and be focused on a task for 30 minutes with minimal interaction from me.
4: Arrange Your Classroom
Arrange your classroom so you can conference with students and keep an eye on the rest of your class as they work on their assigned tasks. Make sure there is enough privacy in your one-on-one conference setting. I move a small table and set it in the back corner so I can survey my students working but keep my conference private. If you don’t have room, consider setting up a paper divider, like a folder at your desk or reading center.
Most likely, your students will be excited on conference day. Make sure before you begin to set the expectation that while you conference with students, you expect certain behaviors. Some other reminders I like to use include:
- Hang up an individual conferences poster to reinforce that your class will participate in conferences today
- Have your teacher reflection log ready with students’ names populated
- Keep the student’s work at hand, ready to share
- Set the timer
6: Create Shared Reflections
One of the most critical steps for an individual conference with students is reflection. Reflection makes meaning—without it, there is no sustainable change. With successful individual conferences, reflection is not a one-way street. To support better relationships and be a model for students, it is essential for the teacher and the student to have a shared reflection. A shared reflection is when both teacher and student report their post-conference reflections on the same log.
I created the teacher-student shared post-conference log so my students know we are in a partnership together. Building a relationship means that both parties take time and reflect on time spent together. Our conferences are built on trust. Students understand that what they have to say is a valued contribution as a unique learner in our class.
Consider using a shared post-conference reflection to grow your relationships with students. You may discover that shared reflections following individual conferences with students are the key to opening the door for further academic success and social-emotional well-being.
About the Author
Jen Cullerton Johnson, EdM/MFA, is a passionate and reflective educator in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of several published books, essays, and short stories, and has been awarded grants and fellowships for her writing and public speaking. Visit her website at www.jencullertonjohnson.com.