The Value of Advisor Conferences

By Dr. John Stegeman (Upper School Head) and Sam Uzwack (Associate Head of School for Middle School and Student Support Services)

Each fall, we begin the school year with conferences between students, parents/guardians and Advisors. This annual tradition serves many functional purposes. In some years, the conference is the point at which a student and their family meet a new Advisor for the first time, and so it represents the introduction to what becomes an important and lasting relationship. The conference sometimes serves as a welcoming event for new families as they join our community and seek answers to lingering questions. It is also a chance for students to review their schedules and make any necessary changes before classes begin. And finally, the Advisor conference provides an opportunity for students to look ahead at the year to come, to make plans and set goals, which will later serve as points of reflection.

In addition to this practical utility, Advisor conferences are deeply symbolic of the partnership between students, parents/guardians, and the school. We have a shared interest in the growth, maturation, and educational experience of students, and no one party is fully responsible when things go well, or when challenges emerge. So, the Advisor conference is an invitation to a partnership. We, as a school, commit to parents/guardians that we will engage your student frequently, not only within the classroom to evaluate their learning, but to know them as a whole person, to look after their well-being and happiness, and to offer support along the bumpy road of adolescent development.

As students develop and proceed through our program, we ask them to take an increasing level of responsibility in their education, and one can see this progress represented in the Advisor conference as well. It may be necessary for an Advisor or parent/guardian to prompt students to think about their upcoming year and set goals by asking pointed questions and really driving the conversation in their first few conference experiences. Students eventually learn to lead these conference discussions, and to focus attention on their own priorities. This transition can be difficult to watch – as parents and educators we are used to serving as caretakers and guides for student development and it is sometimes hard to let go. But it is also incredibly fulfilling to watch a child develop the capacity for independent thinking and long-term planning. The emergence of happy, fulfilled, and self-actualized human beings is ultimately the goal of the work we do together. As we prepare for Advisor conferences next week, we look forward to joining families in partnership as our students continue this journey.