One-on-One Conferences as a Tool for Building a Rapport With Students
This school year, the sight of black squares filling a Zoom screen has been a familiar one for the majority of high school teachers, and it has also been draining for them. There are valid reasons why teenagers typically keep their cameras turned off and remain silent during virtual or hybrid learning, but regardless of the reasons, it has become increasingly difficult to cultivate relationships and a culture in the classroom without in-person interactions. One of the strategies that I’ve put into practise, one-on-one conferences, has assisted me in overcoming this challenge and developing friendly, academic, and reliable relationships with the students.
When I realised that I wasn’t able to effectively communicate with all of my students, I decided to implement individual writing conferences the previous year, before the pandemic hit. My school provides students with the opportunity to meet with their teachers before or after school, as well as during lunch, in order to go over their assignments and ask questions at any point during the academic year. Those of my students who were falling behind in their writing really benefited from this, while the others, who typically wrote at or above their grade level, did not make as much progress in their writing. Before the spring break, I changed my conference format from having groups of students come and go as they pleased throughout the course of an hour to scheduling individual conferences with each student to take place within five-minute time slots.
These conversations illuminated for me the fact that some students who rarely sought assistance had been harbouring misconceptions about our material for several months despite the numerous reteaches that we had given in class. These misunderstandings were cleared up, the students’ confidence was boosted, and their anxiety levels were lowered as a result of the talks. And I was able to have one-on-one conversations with students who were normally so reticent that I hardly ever heard a single word out of them the entire school year.
This year, the conferences have provided an additional advantage that has become increasingly important: I have been able to speak with all of my students, see their faces, and listen to their concerns. One-on-one conferences have been an excellent tool for developing a rapport with students during this school year. One student told me that the conferences “allow for teachers and students to have a more personal relationship with one another even with the challenges of a virtual setting.”
KEEPING CONFERENCES SHORT AND PRODUCTIVE
In a perfect world, we would have as much time as we want to speak with each student, but in my experience, approximately five minutes is the optimal amount of time for a conference to last for both the student and the teacher. Connecting a conference to a task, a skill, or a particular piece of content that is covered in your class can help to make it more manageable and productive. Ask students to reflect on their areas of strength and struggle, as well as their goal for improving, prior to the discussion so that it can be guided by their experiences.
According to what Grant Wiggins has written, in order for feedback to be effective, “a person needs to have a goal, take action to achieve the goal, and receive information about his or her actions that is related to the goal.” The students’ goals enable you to tailor your feedback during the conference to what will benefit each individual student in the most effective manner.
It is imperative that you begin each conference by outlining the agenda for the students in order to keep the conferences within their allotted time frame. This helps students get settled into the conference and reduces the number of interruptions they experience. My structure is as follows, and you can modify it so that it best serves your purposes, the context, and the content:
Begin by saying hello to your student; in the case of virtual students, ask them to turn on their cameras.
Walk me through the schedule for the conference.
Inquire with students about their feelings regarding the relevant task or objective. Before moving on to the next step, you need to make sure that you have validated how they felt.
Give an overview of your primary thoughts regarding the task or ability. Make an effort to condense your thoughts into three main points, beginning with the feedback that was positive.
Inquire from them whether they have any questions or require any clarifications.
Totally up to you, but we highly recommend it: At the end, you will give each student an opportunity to provide feedback on the process, which should be done on their own time outside of the conference.
MANAGING LARGE NUMBERS OF CONFERENCES
The large number of students that each secondary teacher is responsible for is one of the obstacles that frequently discourages teachers from incorporating one-on-one conferences into their daily work. In secondary schools, we can have hundreds of students, and this is one of the reasons why.
Because I have 125 students in my class, having individual conferences lasting just five minutes can take up to almost 10 and a half hours of my time. I’ve attempted to solve the problem in two different ways: either by preparing lessons for the week of the conferences that the students can finish on their own to free up time in class each day for the conferences, or by converting the tutoring times for the next two weeks into conference slots. Both of these are effective options.
MAINTAINING MOTIVATION TO CONFERENCE
There are so many ways to make our jobs as teachers better that it can make us feel completely overwhelmed. Every one of us can think of projects or resources that we have neglected or resources that we have neglected to update since October. You might be tempted to include conferences in that category, but despite the fact that I firmly believe that this practise is worth the time I’ve invested in it, you might be tempted to include conferences in that category.
So the question is, how can we keep ourselves motivated to put conferences first? One of the ideas that I’ve experimented with is to link major projects and conferences together. Because conferences are adaptable and focused on the development of the student, you can use them to discuss any kind of assignment. When I have focused on a major assignment, conferences have improved students’ understanding, turn-in rates, and overall scores. This has saved me work later on when I might otherwise be chasing kids for work to get them passing, which saves me time.
Asking students for feedback on the process after each conference is another thing that helps keep me motivated. The students were required to write open-ended feedback on the conference the year before; this year, I asked them to respond to two questions using a Google Form. In either case, reading about their delight at acquiring new knowledge, increasing their level of comfort, and bolstering their self-assurance made the time spent attending conferences more than worthwhile.
One-on-one conferences have allowed me to regain one of the most important aspects of teaching, which is building relationships with my students, despite the fact that so much about teaching has changed in the past year.