I have been a parent – and now a grandparent – for over 35 years and have probably just attended my last parents’ evening: my youngest son Tom’s Masters degree ceremony. Looking back, I often asked myself whether the experience of talking to teachers about my children’s progress really answered the right questions.
I remember a very pleasant teacher at Tom’s primary school telling me about how he was doing in considerable detail; there were no end of grades proffered to show me how he compared with expectations and then some advice on what he needed to work on. He was – and is – a good reader but his teacher felt he needed to work on his connectives that I rapidly realised was conjunctions in old money. This got me musing about what we might do at home to help this: talk in longer sentences over the breakfast table perhaps: Mayhap Tom now that you’ve finished your Weetabix you might like to turn your attention to a slice of toast; despite the fact that you dislike Marmite you might like to try it or – if you prefer -honey or blackcurrant jam and don’t forget to clean your teeth before going to school. I didn’t let the teacher know what I was thinking.
There is a serious point here. What do we as parents really want to know about our children and what are we happy to leave to the professionals?
Let’s try this as a useful checklist for teachers:
- Is my child happy and well-integrated with others?
- Does s/he persevere with things or give in easily?
- Is s/he getting better and making good progress?
- What does s/he find difficult?
- Does s/he work well with others?
- Is s/he curious about things and keen to ask questions?
- Does s/he think ahead of action or just jump in at the deep end and flounder?
- Does s/he get involved with things or tend to hang back?
- Would you like to know what she’s like at home and see if this is like s/he is at school?
- Is there anything we can do at home to help her/his approach to learning at school?
As a deputy headteacher – and parent – that I was talking to recently said: I don’t really get told what I need to know about my kids – I get loads of information but teachers don’t really talk about them as learners or people – it’s as if the data is there for the benefit of professional accountability – it doesn’t speak to me as a parent about what’s really going on.
So why is this?
I believe that as parents – and teachers – we have complied with government bodies who seem to expect us to give and receive information about external measures so that we have lost sight of the individual behind the data.
This is not the case in all schools; many have begun to report to parents – and talk to them at parents’ evenings – in the language of learning. Instead of being given the perennial negotiated target – Speak up more in class – I would have preferred something that would help me to help my children.
- Jenny has the tendency to give up too easily if the going gets tough, perhaps you could do things at home that get her stuck and help her with some coping strategies – there are some ideas on our school website.
- We’ve been doing some work on positive attitudes to build confidence this has led us to do some work on what and how we praise – we’re doing a workshop on this for parents soon.
- Brian doesn’t think before he gets started on something – there are simple things you can do at home that might help him
More and more schools are asking me to run workshops for parents on, amongst other things, building learning habits at home, what it means to be an emotionally intelligent parent and how to be your children’s coach.
It is to be hoped that the current debate about learning character that I’ve talked about before will begin to redress the balance.
As my wife, Jane, said as we walked away from another disappointing parents’ evening – when are they going to stop talking about numbers and start talking about Tom?
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