A couple weeks ago, our 6th graders finished their first ever Athenian conferences! Spread over three days, 6th-grade conferences are an exciting component of the Middle School experience and one that has been specially designed to reflect our values as an institution.
More than a year ago, a team of 6th-grade teachers spent months creating a new way to introduce our youngest students to Athenian. A major component of their vision was a new “Mastery Rubric,” which we began to use last fall. This rubric was designed to gently ease our 6th graders into middle school by taking the emphasis off of letter grades and instead focusing on building six core skills: empathy, readiness to learn, collaboration, quality of work, demonstration of learning, and mindset. At the end of the first quarter of school, 6th-grade students received a rubric from each of their teachers which addressed their proficiency in each of these areas.
Alongside the rubric, the 6th-grade team also reimagined the 6th-grade conference. Once students received the rubrics from their teachers, they spent time during their weekly Flex periods analyzing them and writing notes about their strengths and areas for growth in each class and as a member of the Middle School community. The students then synthesized this information into a cohesive presentation and practiced in front of their peers so they would be ready for their conferences.
On the day of their conference, each student and their parents are met by their advisor and then welcomed into a room with all of their teachers. In the span of fifteen minutes, the students give their presentations and answer questions from their teachers and parents. The weeks leading up to the conference often inspire nervousness, but after giving their presentations the students often express pride and excitement. It’s a very positive experience and sets the tone for the rest of their middle school experience that the teachers are allies who are here to support student growth.