Winsor parents enjoyed a beginning of the year update and insights from Sharon Jones Phinney and Ridie Markenson, the respective heads of Lower and Upper School.
At the October 16 Parents' Association coffee, Sharon Jones Phinney and Ridie Markenson, the respective heads of Lower and Upper School, shared what's top of mind for the 2019-2020 academic year and answered an array of questions from more than 60 parents in attendance.
In her opening, Ms. Jones Phinney remarked on her appreciation for the dedicated community of adults at Winsor who "never sit still. They recognize that things are always changing, and are continuously looking at ways to improve the work we do in the most thoughtful way."
The revised advisory program, conferences and report cards were the focus of much of the discussion, and both heads illustrated how thoughtfully the divisions are working together, mindful of developmental transitions. Class coordinators, advisors, deans, wellness department members, faculty and division heads collaborated over the summer, "thinking a lot about the way we talk about our students and they way they talk about themselves," she said.
In the Lower School, advisors now meet with students 3 times/cycle, encouraging them to share their academic and social experiences, and helping them learn to set and take ownership of goals. The four values of Leadership, Integrity, Inclusivity, and Kindness (LInK) provide an additional framework for discussion, modeling behavior, and connecting as a community.
In the Upper School, advisory time has doubled to 50 minutes, 2 times/cycle, rotating between group discussions and one-on-one goal setting and assessment. Because US students have a deeper understanding of their own values and identity, advisors focus on helping them learn to articulate and prioritize what really matters to them, and set goals and take action accordingly.
"It's all about ownership," said Mrs. Markenson. "Developmentally, we want students to realize, ''What am I good at? And what's going to take more work because it doesn't come easily?' And we want to help them work through the discomfort of something that's not in their skill set." Sometimes, mid-year, they'll realize they need to make a change, and that's part of the process, too - and an essential life skill.
The same premise is also behind the changes to conferences and report cards. Comments will now be provided mid-semester, giving students the opportunity to act on the feedback. And when students and parents meet with the student's advisor in January, all parties will have had time to digest the feedback, and the students will have had time to apply it.
Reflecting on the decision to replace short parent-teacher conferences with one longer meeting between the student, parents, and advisors, Mrs. Markenson assured, "The faculty will be in continuous contact with the advisors, providing a wholistic view of each student's experience and progress," something she notes they are committed to doing. And with the students a part of the conversation, she added, "We are making sure there's honesty. It's essential. There should be no surprises. The adults need to be able to provide the same feedback they'd give about the child, directly to the child. And students need to learn to advocate for themselves, and to accept and assess feedback."