Lower School Reflections: From the Desk of Dr. Gosnell

Published On: May 4th, 2023 | Categories: Food for Thought |

May 2023
It can be difficult to change misconceptions, especially when previous understandings have been long held or would require sizable mindset shifts. Our open mindedness often connects to how tightly we hold onto our beliefs. This is particularly true when it comes to commonly held thoughts about what school, and teaching, should look and sound like. Leaning into our pillar of excellence as a school, we owe it to our students to stay current with the science of learning. At times, new instructional structures and strategies challenge our traditional notion of teaching and learning.

Parent-teacher conferences serve as an example of a traditional structure with expectations for how the conversation might play out. However, when we shift from a more teacher-centered to learner-centered view of schooling, the learner gains agency and is expected to be an active participant  in their educational progress. The teacher is the facilitator of learning, they create optimal conditions for learning, they support student success, but they do so WITH the student. So, when it comes time to share progress, the student is empowered. Recently, our fourth grade teachers piloted student-led conferences. Students selected work samples, reflected on strengths and learning goals, and used graphic organizers to guide planning. Students practiced leading their meetings with peers prior to their official meeting with their teachers and parents present. In response to a follow-up survey, we got mostly positive feedback, with a few of the responses shared below:

“I was quite surprised with the student-led conference – in a good way. Watching my daughter present her work and topics she’s been exploring in class was refreshing. She grew more confident as the presentation went on, but I also took note of both a higher level of ownership in the material on her part and she was able to demonstrate her understanding of the material.”

“The format was excellent, putting my student at the helm of her own education. I was thrilled to see self-reflection, pinpointing strengths and areas of growth, and goal setting were the focus of the conferences. My daughter, who is pretty shy, led us through her learning and work from the trimester and talked openly and honestly. There was plenty of opportunity at the end to ask questions and hear the teachers’ takes as well.”

“Hats off to all of you, especially the students. Thank you for piloting this program. My son and I both absolutely loved his student led conferences. Thank you for taking the time to establish routines in order to help him be successful with his conferences. Overall this experience was a great success.”

Over the last couple of years, our faculty and staff have continuously talked about innovation at Powhatan. Recently at our Monday staff meeting, our Department of Innovation and Technology defined innovation, gave examples, and discussed obstacles to innovation for teachers. They also shared some great resources and, with leadership, charged everyone with drafting an innovation goal for next school year. As a follow-up, I shared this article with teachers  6 Counterintuitive Strategies to Boost Student Learning | Edutopia. Of course, there are SO many ways to be innovative, but one thing out-of-the-box thinking requires is a shift in mindset from what is to what could be, and then a willingness to play and try something new, even if it is counterintuitive.

In what ways are you challenging yourself and your family members to think differently about something or to go out on a limb and try something new?


For more information about neuromyths in education, check out: 

The High Cost of Neuromyths in Education | Edutopia

Neuromyths: The 10 Top Misconceptions about your Brain | by Thomas Moran | The Startup | Medium


For more information about student-led conferences:

Why Students Should Take the Lead in Parent-Teacher Conferences | KQED

When Students Lead Their Learning

Students as Leaders of Their Learning | Edutopia

When Kids Lead Their Parent-Teacher Conferences