Student-Led Conferences: “Know Thyself”

By Peter Klam, Middle School Head

Plato exhorted his followers, saying “know thyself!” It is a call to understand one’s own strengths and weaknesses in order to more effectively make one’s way in the world. It is also a cultivated skill that stands at the center of our Student-Led Conference (SLC) system.

After several years of research into the system and careful adaptation of our own model, we inaugurated SLCs last year because we saw the potential that the system has to foster among our students a deep understanding of themselves as learners and an ability to articulate that understanding to others. We see the system as vital to these efforts because it sets aside time for students to practice these skills of self-reflection and self-advocacy.

Of course, we don’t see all students starting from the same place, and we don’t expect them all to leave with a uniform understanding of themselves and a uniform ability to articulate that understanding. Just as students start and finish middle school with relatively different readiness levels in math or in writing, we see students more or less ready to tackle this challenging set of skills. But we also see that students can grow against themselves in self-knowledge and self-advocacy, and we know that regular practice is central to the cultivation of this (like any) skill set. Students grow tremendously against themselves, and they grow as a group in their overall ability to see their learning characteristics, to explain them, and to set goals for their own future growth. We have seen this growth already after three rounds of SLCs, and we are excited about the prospect of the first cohort of students completing the entire middle-school cycle of SLCs in a little over two years. We are confident that, given what we have seen already, this systematic self-reflection and goal-setting will prove transformational for our students.

And students do grow, and in wonderful ways. The 7th and 8th grade system, where students prepare an extended presentation that speaks to their growth and challenges in all of their classes, demonstrates the ways in which these conferences support student self-understanding. Not all students find them easy, and not all students engage naturally in this challenging work. But they do engage in it, and they do learn and grow with Student-Led Conferences in ways that will help them to become successful, honest, empowered people in an ever-changing, ever-more-complicated world.

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