By Ellie W. ’21
Last month, the words “student-led conferences” would have elicited a variety of reactions, from groans to exclamations of “I’m so nervous” or “I’m actually really excited!”. By now, however, some opinions may have changed.
In September, I wrote an article expressing my feelings about the changes to the Winsor conference system before I actually experienced them. On a more surface-level note, I was a little concerned that these new conferences would turn out similarly to the Lower School portfolios—specifically, in their rigidity and tediousness. Overall though, I believed that while the new system’s emphasis on student self-reflection helps fill some of the gaps of the old system, it also lacks the parent-teacher communication that the previous conferences facilitated.
After going through the conference process, my overall stance hasn’t drastically changed. Each advisory differed in how it prepared for the conferences, but in my advisory, I filled out a conference planning document that I structured my conference around and met with my advisor a few times. It was a pretty relaxed process—I didn’t make a slideshow or plan out every single detail for the whole thirty minutes, but wrote down the big ideas I would reference. Though I was given suggestions, the conference structure was ultimately up to me and I ended up focusing on three goals of mine. These were pretty broad, so I also spoke about my plan to achieve them, the steps I was already taking, and how I was currently doing with them. This process required me to self-reflect and really think hard about the goals I set and how I was going to achieve them, so I feel that the conference accomplished its intention of providing a space to do just that.
Throughout the process, I didn’t feel much pressure to structure my conference a certain way or spend hours preparing. I’m grateful to have had a supportive experience, and while my advisor gave me guidance, overall, I was able to conduct the conference the way I wanted to. As for worries about Lower School portfolios, I’ve found that this year’s conferences allow for much more flexibility, compared to the stifling rigidity of portfolios. I made all the decisions regarding these conferences, but I also wasn’t totally on my own—suggestions were given and I had an advisor guiding me. So, at least with my experience, I believe that this new conference system succeeded in allowing students to reflect while also not providing excess, suffocating amounts of structure.
However, I stand by my previous opinion that these conferences, while adding self-reflection, did not truly substitute parent-teacher conferences. I didn’t focus my conference on academics, and while that was my decision, I feel that only having one opportunity to present my self-reflection was limiting—it’s hard to fit academic performance, academic goals, and other social and extracurricular goals into one conference. Additionally, removing teachers from the conversation eliminated an integral part of parent-teacher conferences: interaction between parents and teachers. Although report card comments at midterm helped to remedy some of this disconnect, it also did not allow for much direct communication. Many Winsor students share a mixed view of the conferences: Maya Bodick ’21 says that “they made for some good reflection and bonding with my advisor, but that being said, I prefer student-teacher conferences.”
Ultimately, I believe the student-led conferences failed in their goal to provide a more comprehensive view of a student’s life at Winsor because they completely replaced parent-teacher conferences without making up for lost communication. It’s not that the previous system was actively harmful, but instead that it was simply lacking. Self-reflection is important and should be included in Winsor’s conferencing system, but eliminating parent-teacher communication creates flaws in the new system. I understand that there are difficulties in having both student-led conferences and parent-teacher conferences with students present, such as timing. However, I believe that the student-led conference system is still incomplete, so adding parent and teacher dialogue on a separate day would help make the conferences more well-rounded.