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What Parents Need to Know About Grades


When students receive a failing grade, does it motivate them to do better--or do they just shut down?

When parents become upset over their kids’ grades, there’s one rarely mentioned fact they need to recall: The only grades included in college applications are those from 10th and 11th grade.

That’s right. Those two high school years are the only ones that count when it comes to college admissions.

That sobering fact should help put things in perspective when 7-year-old Joey bombs his spelling tests or 10-year-old Kate fails her math test.  Knowing this, we may also consider the long-term effects of making too much out of a bad grade.

For example, if we focus too much on grades when kids are young, will they burn out by the time they actually count?  Instead of becoming motivated to work harder, will they decide (early on) that they’re just not smart—and “check out” when it comes to school?

There are other considerations when looking at grades.  Teachers get to choose how they present their lessons. So a child who is a kinesthetic learner may have difficulty learning new information from a teacher who relies on a lecture format and worksheets. But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t smart or motivated to learn.

It’s also possible that the child learned the information but wasn’t able to demonstrate that on the test. That scenario is more likely when kids feel test “pressure”—since such angst often causes them to temporarily forget what they know.

So, I have an idea on how to improve grades for all kids, but I don’t think it would go over well in schools.

What if teachers and kids “shared” the grade?  In other words, if a teacher puts an “F” on a child’s paper, she, too, gets that “F.”  After all, isn’t the grade equally reflective of how she presented the information and whether the content and format of the test actually evaluated what was learned?

And it that ever became the norm, do you think we’d see kids getting much better grades?

Tips for Emailing Your Child’s Teacher

tips for emailing teacher

We want to avoid writing emails that escalate, rather than improve, a situation.

Sure, firing off an email now makes it possible to communicate with our kids’ teachers—at all hours—without ever setting foot on campus.  But if we don’t exercise some care with this instant form of communication, we may end up doing more harm than good whenever we push “send.”

To start, it’s helpful to remember that the classroom teacher is doing one of the following whenever she receives our email: She’s teaching (if she gets an email during school hours), preparing for that or the next day’s lessons (if she gets an email right before or after school), or living her “other” life (if she receives an email in the evening or weekend).

It’s also good to recall that we’re just one of 20-30 families in the class. That means our email may be the third, fourth or fifth one that the teacher has received that day.

So here are some guidelines to ensure that our emails are well-received.

1.  We keep it short.

We do this by limiting ourselves to no more than three or four lines, thereby eliminating any possibility of writing a long tirade (about what’s upsetting us).  Also, with a minimum line requirement, we have to get right to the point.

2.  We’re specific.

What do we want from the teacher?  In other words, what would we like to happen after our email is read?

3.  We ask instead of tell.

We put our concerns in the form of questions, rather than statements that could be interpreted as telling the teacher how to run her class.  For example, instead of writing there’s too much nightly homework, we might ask if the teacher is willing to explore ways to reduce our child’s assignments.

4. We make sure we haven’t already received the information we’re seeking.

Suppose we can’t find the paper listing what our kids need to bring for an upcoming class project. In such case, we’d email another parent in the class—not the teacher—to get that information (again).

5.  We sit on an email for at least 24 hours.

We establish a waiting period so that we then have a chance to re-read and edit our email with a different mindset.  And who knows? Maybe a day later, we no longer even feel the need to send the email.

6.  We also email when we’re pleased about something.

Was our child talking nonstop about the great field trip? Were we impressed with the teacher’s thorough, insightful comments on our child’s report?  If so, we share that kind of upbeat feedback in a quick email.

And so, what happens when we put the above ideas in place? Emailing becomes a way to ensure, rather than jeopardize, positive communication with our child’s teacher.

Secrets to Interpreting Your Child’s Classroom


When desks are arranged this way,
student interaction is most likely encouraged.

A quick glance at your child’s classroom can provide a lot of information about the learning environment.

1. Seating Arrangement
Tables or clusters of desks suggest there’ll be opportunities to interact and work in pairs or groups for various tasks.

Desks in a U-shape allow students to see each other while having a whole class discussion but does not lend itself to small group interactions.

Desks in rows probably mean there’s little student interaction or collaboration throughout the day.

2. Display of Student Work
If the work differs from each other—and some of the posted work even has a few mistakes—we may conclude that uniqueness is encouraged and the process in this classroom trumps producing a final “perfect” product.

3. Display of Class Rules
Rules written with a positive perspective (e.g. Raise a hand to respond) versus those written with a negative emphasis (e.g. Don’t call out answers) suggest an overall more encouraging environment.

4. Classroom Clutter
A distinct cleared area surrounding the white board and minimal “extras” placed on counter tops and hanging from the ceilings suggest an understanding that some kids can’t filter background stimuli.

5. Hands-on Learning Stations
Learning stations guarantee that there are opportunities to get up and move throughout the day, work independently, and learn at places other than the students’ desks.

6. Personalized Touch
Extras, such as plants, class pets, and fun furniture (rocking or beanbag chair) suggest there’s a conscious effort to create a friendly environment.

7. Novelty
Anything unique suggests a more creative versus traditional learning environment. For example, kids in my classroom earned vacation time and then “flew” to Hawaii (a part of the room transformed to look like the beach) to hang out.

Is there often a direct connection between a child’s behavior and the physical classroom environment? Yes. Can we use that information to then support our child? Yes, again.
For example, if the teacher comments that he’s easily distracted in class, you might explore removing some of the “extras” around the instructional board (if you’ve noted a lot of stimuli).

So check your child’s classroom, and see what you can learn!

Red Flags When Meeting with the Teacher


Kids deserve to be in a learning environment
that allows them to shine.

Some parents find it important to meet with their child’s teacher right at the start of the school year.  Most of the time, these meetings go very well. The majority of teachers are supportive and eager to work with the parents to explore possible modifications for the child.

But sometimes there is no sense of a desire to collaborate.  While the teacher’s responses to the parents’ concerns are always polite, there’s a consistent message: Don’t expect me to make any special changes for your child.

When I hear recounts of such meetings, I always ask the same questions: If you (the parent) left that meeting with a pit in your stomach, then how do you imagine your child feels in that classroom for six hours a day? And . . . what long-term message are you sending by dropping your child off in an environment where you don’t believe he’s being honored?

Six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of a year is a long time to be in an environment that is not a good “fit” for a child.

So we have to ask ourselves:

  • If we keep our kids in such a learning environments for an entire year, what price do they pay?
  • When looking at the bigger picture, is it really in our child’s best interest to keep insisting that there is not a single other possible learning environment (on the entire planet J)?

In truth, there are always options. Sure, they may not always be within easy reach, and initiating them may be way out of our comfort zone. But yes, there is always more than one learning environment available for our kids.

And if we believe that, our kids are guaranteed to spend their year in a classroom that honors them.

Celebrating Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences are always cause to celebrate.

Parent-teacher conferences are
always cause to celebrate.

Sometimes, parent-teacher conferences don’t turn out as everyone hoped.   Here’s why conferences often go south and how they can be tweaked to ensure a positive experience.

1.  Report cards are often top-secret.

What’s the downside of waiting to reveal report cards at conference time? Well, a lot of kids (and parents) develop pre-conference anxiety. Parents will also be unprepared for the unexpected.

Tweaked: Ask if you and your child can see the report card prior to the conference. That way, if something unexpected appears on the report card, you have time to reflect, rather than react.

2.  Conferences are often exclusive.

Not sure why the child is regularly left out of a meeting that is all about him. (Don’t think any of us would go for our boss asking us to stay home while she discusses our performance with another co-worker.)

Tweaked: Ask if your child can also attend the conference. Regardless of the answer, your child will appreciate that you wanted to include him.

3.  Conferences are one-sided assessments.

Since we all benefit from feedback, why not ask everyone to reflect?

Tweaked: Challenge your child to create and mark a report card that assesses her teacher’s effectiveness. You, too, can evaluate a number of areas such as parent/teacher communications and clarity of assignments.

4.  Conference discussions often forget who’s in charge.

The teacher says Billy pushes kids while standing in line. Is she hoping the parents will solve a problem that happens at school?  The parents share that Billy takes forever to get dressed in the morning. Are they hoping the teacher will solve a problem that happens at home?

Tweaked: Propose that teachers and parents are each in charge (i.e. comes up with the solutions to move forward) whenever the child is on their watch.

It’s also helpful to come to the parent-teacher conference with questions. That’s because questions shift a discussion back to the brain’s cortex, thus bypassing potential defensive reactions (someone starts arguing his point) or retreat reactions (someone shuts down and is no longer processing any info).

Here are some generic questions that parents or teachers can ask whenever they sense a conference needs a little positive nudge.

  • How do you see moving forward?
  • What were you hoping I’d do with that information?
  • How are you thinking I’m hearing that information?

After the conference, go celebrate with your child. That goes for all report cards, regardless of the grades.  And what will you be celebrating? You’ll be toasting that learning is an on-going process. You’ll be celebrating that there’s more to your child than what’s noted on the report card.

To underscore that point, hand your child another report card that reflects what your child already shines in.  There’s nothing phony or condescending about this.  After all, a child who earns an A+ in Lego Construction may just end up being a world-renowned architect.

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