Over the past few years, all 10 RISE partner high schools have implemented on-track conferences to help students forge stronger connections with educators and build a shared language and understanding of academic success. These quarterly on-track conferences create an opportunity for all students to have a conversation with a caring adult about their grades, attendance, and behavior and their personal and academic goals. This year, social distancing and virtual learning have introduced new implementation challenges relative to how schools usually conduct their conferences; however, given the more limited in-person opportunities for freshmen to build relationships with educators in their new schools, on-track conferences have never been more important. Fortunately, educators are adapting and finding innovative approaches to ensure that supportive one-on-one conversations can still happen with all of their Grade 9 students.
In mid-October, educators representing six partner schools shared their approaches to conducting socially distanced in-person conferences and fully virtual conferences. While planning was more logistically challenging than in past years, educators who had already implemented conferences this year agreed that the additional coordination was well worth the effort. The opportunity to engage each student in a ten-minute conversation helped educators understand how students are adjusting to freshman year and to a new model of learning, while also guiding students through reflection and goal-setting related to their academic progress thus far. These conversations not only provided a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for their students, but also reminded educators about the importance and impact of their work with students.
Based on their experiences so far, educators offered the following suggestions and advice for implementing on-track conferences to schools still in the planning process:
Socially-Distanced In-Person Conferences:
- Utilize flexible blocks of time, including advisory and/or study halls.
- Spread conferences over a longer period of time, for example, schedule conferences with students during a Friday advisory over several weeks.
- Rather than meeting students in the cafeteria or library, have students remain in the classroom and ask educators to conference in the classroom. One option may be to pull students to a classroom corner to briefly conference during independent work time.
- Instead of paper on-track reports, utilize PowerSchool information or the Student Profile on the RISE dashboard to ground the conversation in a student’s current academic progress.
- Ask conferencers to call their assigned students the day before their conferences to schedule a time for their conversation.
- Use Google hangouts or Google classroom to schedule specific appointment times for students.
- Differentiate outreach for students who have been disengaged from remote learning.
RISE encourages schools to continue working closely with their RISE school support team to identify creative ways to maintain these important student touchpoints and to share additional ideas and success stories as educators continue to develop innovative approaches to implementing on-track conferences in their school communities!