sealPurdue News

November 1999

Bring the students into parent-teacher conferences

Source: Marilyn Haring, (765) 494-2336;

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Students should take an active part in parent-teacher conferences, says the dean of Purdue University's School of Education.

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"Although these meetings frequently are called 'parent-teacher' conferences, the student should be involved in part or all of the event -- not just present but as a participant," says Dean Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development. "By the time a child reaches the third or fourth grade, she's going to be able not only to contribute, but also to benefit from an open discussion of her academic progress."

Haring goes a step further to assert that by the time students reach middle school, they should not just attend the parent-teacher conference; they should direct it.

"It's very paternalistic to assume that teachers and parents are all-knowing when it comes to a specific student's abilities and expectations," Haring says. "Including students in the process gives them a voice and encourages them to accept more personal responsibility for their academic performance."

The concept of student-led parent-teacher conferences has 10 years of research and practice supporting it. The Educational Resources Information Center maintained by the National Library of Education has collected abstracts on the subject since 1989. They are available on the Web by searching the organization's data base for "student-led parent conferences."

"The research indicates that everyone wins," Haring says. "The dialogue between parents and teachers tends to improve, as does the level of communication between parents and their child. Plus the student gains self-confidence and personal satisfaction by being directly involved in the process."

But many schools have not embraced the practice, resulting in wide variation from state to state, district to district and even from school to school within the same district. So why have schools been so slow to adopt the student-led model?

"Change is always hard, even when it's for the best," Haring says. "The largest obstacle for many schools is scheduling, because this type of conference doesn't fit very well into the 15-minute block that's usually reserved for parent-teacher conferences. Twenty to 30 minutes is much more realistic."

Haring recognizes that there will continue to be issues that should be discussed outside of the students' presence, and schools must have the flexibility to accommodate those conversations.

"The final five minutes of a student-led conference can be set aside for private dialogue between parents and teachers," Haring says. "Parents can also be given the option of setting a follow-up appointment to meet one-on-one with the teacher."

Haring says the following issues should be discussed at an academic conference:

  • What are the learning expectations of the student, teacher and parent? Are they consistent?

  • How is achievement measured? Does that measurement include special aptitudes such as performing in the school choir or peer tutoring a new student?

  • If problems are identified in the areas of truancy, emotional outbursts or peer relationships, all parties should agree on the type of assistance to be pursued.

  • Citizenship should be a primary focus of the conference, with examples of sharing, supporting others, honesty and conscientiousness being cited by the student, teacher and parent.

  • Parents should tell the teacher about any changes in the family, such as the arrival of a new baby, a divorce, or the traumatic illness of a parent or sibling. This gives all three parties a chance to discuss the impact of the situation and coping strategies.

Writer: Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,


Parents, teachers and students can learn a lot from each other when all three participate in the parent-teacher conference, such as this simulated one. (Purdue News Service Photo Illustration by David Umberger)

Color photo illustration, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Haring.tcon

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