By Ellie W. ’21
For as long as Winsor students can remember, there’s been two days in a row in October when school isn’t held: parent-teacher conferences. Many students welcomed this four-day weekend, but this year, the conference and report card systems have been revised. The most noticeable change is the shift from parent-teacher conferences to student-led conferences. Additionally, the report card system now includes comments at each midterm and a skills checklist at the end of midterms and of each semester.
In previous years, parents met with each of their child’s teachers for around 10 minutes in order to discuss the student’s academic life at Winsor. Additionally, report cards were sent at the end of each quarter, with comments from teachers at the end of each semester. However, this system came with limitations: as Mrs. Markenson, Upper School Head, and Ms. Labieniec, Director of Studies, stated during Upper School Meeting, parent-teacher conferences were like the “blind men and elephant parable” and did not provide a comprehensive view of a student’s life at Winsor.
This year, Upper School students will meet once with their parents and advisor in January for a student-led conference, replacing parent-teacher conferences entirely. In order for parents to stay connected with teachers, report cards along with the newly implemented checklists of course standards will still be sent after each quarter, but they will now contain comments at each midterm that allow students to make changes while they still have time. Mrs. Markenson says that the new conferences and report cards will “give students more helpful information about their learning”, “encourage them to be more reflective and put that information to use”, and help them “practice important life skills” such as advocating for themselves while still understanding areas for growth.
However, many Upper School students are hesitant about these conferences. Some students believed that the new conferences are a roundabout method of communicating with parents. In addition, Reah Donohue says that the new conferences entail telling “how I think I’m doing in school”, which “ignores completely how I actually am doing”. In addition, Reah claims that the original parent-teacher conference system was not flawed: “our parents are not eight different blind scientists … In using simple deductive reasoning, our parents can put the clues together and figure out that it is an elephant, giving them the full picture”. Similarly, Maya B. ’21 says that “there is a certain degree of dishonesty” in the student-led aspect of the conferences because “students only present their best work.” She also says that although parent-teacher conferences were short, “the teacher can give an honest report on how the student is doing, more honest than that of the student”, and conferences “also gave parents a chance to meet the teachers and get a real sense of what their child is doing at school”.
Despite the doubts and concerns that many students and parents may have for this new system, it’s important to note their potential benefits as well. These conferences prioritize skills, such as self-reflection and goal setting, that students do not often practice in an academic setting. Although preparing for conferences may be uncomfortable, it will ultimately allow students to consider themselves in a different way and parents to gain a different view of their children – less connected to academics, but still in a school setting. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that not all students communicate with their parents as openly as others do, and may find the new conferences helpful rather than redundant.
While some reactions have been of reluctance, Upper School students also recognize the benefits of this new system. Haley K. ’20 believes that “[conferences] in the past definitely seemed redundant with comments, so I’m glad that my teachers are trying to implement the checklists. I’m not entirely sure how enlightening my conference will be, but allowing myself to self analyze and reflect on my progress is a more active way to engage with my learning than letting my teachers contemplate on their own where I succeed and require attention.” While she agrees that “parents are effectively losing an opportunity to connect with teachers,” she says that “I also think that the new style of conferences could benefit my overall achievement of goals”. Additionally, Alyssa W. ’20 says that “I find it helpful that [the conferences] involve students”, rather than having students on the outside of a conversation about themselves. However, she feels that while the goal-oriented aspect of the conferences is helpful for underclassmen, as a senior, “most of my broad goals don’t pertain to Winsor anymore and my academic goals are very subject oriented”, and “a check in with my teacher would be helpful.”
Many parents are also doubtful about this new system. An anonymous parent says that “it is important to have one student-led conference in addition to parent-teacher conferences [which was the previous system in Lower School] so that the girls feel empowered to own their learning experience”. However, parents are concerned that “parents would not be able to effectively interact with teachers on different subjects under this format … and it could impact our communication with our daughters too”. Written reports from teachers “are often a one-way communication, and a lot of points and information can get lost”. The previous format’s “two-way interaction was extremely helpful for us to understand our daughters’ progress”. Additionally, another parent states that “the whole point of parent-teacher conferences is to discuss any issues without the student present” and “freely talk about their child’s performance without fear of hurting their feelings”. Parent-teacher conferences allowed for more open and candid communication between parents and teachers, and the new system would take that opportunity away.
In response to reactions to the new system, Mrs. Markenson believes students and parents are bound to be hesitant, because “familiar systems are being changed”. However, she hopes that “after the first round, parents and students will have found that the conferences provide very helpful information”. She also says that this is “the initial version of the system, and it will be revised after the first round”.
However, the faculty are excited; Mrs. Markenson says that “they have spent a lot of time thinking about how to make it meaningful for students”. Ms. Holland, a history teacher, says that while “I did enjoy meeting the parents of my students”, “hopefully this process helps me to get to know my advisees a bit better and to be a better resource for my advisee parents.”
Ultimately, the initial parent-teacher conference system was limited: it did not allow for dialogue between parents, teachers, and students all together, which is necessary to provide a comprehensive view of a student’s life at Winsor. However, this new system of student-led conferences is equally as limited. Because it replaces parent-teacher conferences entirely, it does not provide an opportunity for parents to directly connect with teachers. While it is important for students to self-reflect and parents to hear about students’ lives from the students themselves, it is just as important for parents and teachers to be able to share a more candid view of a student’s progress among themselves. If parent-teacher and student-led conferences were held concurrently, parents would gain a well-rounded view of their children’s progress, while students would have the chance to self-reflect and practice important life skills. Even if the student-led conferences were redundant, there would still be information to gain from parent-teacher conferences. Thus, the benefits of both systems could be reaped, with few of the disadvantages.