The Power of Competency-Based Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences can be tough, but using a competency-based approach simplifies conferencing!
"Using competencies to guide conferences - rather than simply discussing the students’ personalities or behaviors - helps keep the conversation objective and constructive and also makes it clearest what both parents and teachers can do to support each individual student’s on-going learning."

Early each October, teachers and parents get together for their yearly conferences. Unfortunately, these potentially valuable conversations come so close to the beginning of the school year that it can often be difficult to know what to talk about! If you want to make that conference time count, however, the best approach is to talk about competencies.


Competency-based learning (CBL) is an approach that breaks learning down into measurable, repeatable skill targets rather than focusing on content-based factual knowledge. That means that “competencies” are really just “things a learner can do well.” Using competencies to guide conferences - rather than simply discussing the students’ personalities or behaviors - helps keep the conversation objective and constructive and also makes it clearest what both parents and teachers can do to support each individual student’s on-going learning.


If your school uses a competency-based approach, then your parent-teacher conferences probably already include discussions of goals, competencies, and ways to support student learning. This is a fantastic way to organize these meetings, but it’s important that both the teacher and the parent have prepared themselves ahead of time. Only when all the stakeholders in the room have formed an honest, data-driven assessment of the student can they have a truly meaningful discussion about where that learner is, where they’re headed and how best to get them there.


Even if your conference takes place at a traditional school that doesn’t use a CBL approach yet, you can still use competencies to steer the discussion. As a teacher, you can prepare for conferences by considering your grade level or subject area and thinking about what important skills your students cultivate throughout the year (research, writing, technology use, problem-solving strategies, etc.). Before each student’s conference, use what you already know of each student, including their past report cards and work to date in your class, to generate a sense of where they are at this time in terms of your class competencies. This naturally creates an outline for a deep, meaningful conversation with parents about goals, progress, and ways they can help the cause from home.


If you’re a parent attending a conference, don’t be shy about raising the competency question yourself. Most teachers will recognize the term “competency” (it’s a pretty good test to see how up to date their knowledge of progressive education is!) and should be able to tell you what main functional skills and ways of thinking students will be developing in their class. Once you know the main competencies covered in that class or grade level, you can naturally transition the conversation toward your child and his or her areas of strength and weakness. By understanding the overarching goals of your child’s grade or class (the competencies, as it were), you make yourself a much better support for them at home.


One great way to make your competency-based conference even more meaningful is by including the students themselves. When learners are involved in the process, they see the conference more as a discussion about strengths and weaknesses and less as their parents and teachers talking about them behind their backs. When everybody’s on the same page and October parent-teacher conferences are focused on competency, everybody gets more out of the experience!


To learn more about Competency-Based Learning, download our free ebook “Maximizing Goal-Driven, Learner-Centered Competency Education with an LRM” from the Resource Library.