Planning for the Future: Why I Love Individual Planning Conferences

3721809183_847a705f0c.jpgBy Sabrina  Bartels – From December until February, my fellow counselors and I find ourselves consumed by individual planning conferences. During these months, we meet with every single 8th grader and his/her parent(s) to discuss high school classes and potential plans after high school. We also show parents how to use Career Locker, which is a website that we use in our 7th grade Career Pathways class. To say the least, it is a somewhat exhausting process: We each complete about 120 conferences, doing upwards of four to five conferences a day. Some days, we have so many conferences and meetings, it is difficult to meet individually with our students.

As exhausting as this process can be, there are also some fantastic benefits to doing these conferences.

  1. We get to meet with EVERY 8th grader! Yes, this leads to a lot of conferences. It leads to some stress. At the same time, we get to do individually tailored conferences for every student. We talk about THEIR plans, THEIR hopes, THEIR dreams. As easy as it could be to do one, blanket meeting about graduation requirements, being able to work with each student on an individual basis gives us the opportunity to help them figure out the best path for high school. Whether that means taking a lot of tech ed classes, or working to fit a cooking class into their schedule, our students know they are individuals and are treated accordingly.
  1. We get to meet parents! For some parents, I have always just been the voice on the phone, or a figure that their son or daughter mentions. Now parents can put a name to the face, and I am able to do the same! Also, a lot of my students have younger siblings, so I get to see some parents again and again!
  1. We receive feedback on our conferences (and, occasionally, our counseling). Our parents get a chance to fill out evaluations about their conference, as well as the counselor they met with. It is surprising how many students know you, even when you are not their primary counselor. This year, since the 8th graders are “my” students, I get a lot of comments about my counseling from students and parents. This includes one very kind note from a parent, who wrote on her evaluation that I have been a “great support to my daughter and our family for the last three years.” It feels awesome to hear that!
  1. We help our students pick their high school classes. Having parents involved in their students’ schedules not only reduces anxiety on the parents’ parts, it also shows the students that they have a support system. Parents feel better knowing their student is not taking five gym classes and two study halls; students feel empowered because they get to choose which classes they prefer; and both the parent and I get to help guide our kids to making smart decisions.
  1. We get to shower our students with compliments. We have our students do a self-reflection that asks about their strengths, talents, and what they are looking forward to in the future. This is the time when parents get a chance to tell their children how they would describe them, as well as give me a chance to compliment my students on their smart choices, good behavior, and excellent grades. So many times, I don’t get a chance to individually tell all my students that they are doing a good job; this is a wonderful opportunity to do so!

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