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Progress Reports: Do Parents Make the Grade?

Progress Reports from our elementary school went home last week.  Unless you were like me and didn’t actually receive it until today – a full week later – when the teacher made us a second copy (as the original seems to have gotten lost in the Black Hole otherwise known as my son’s cubby). Interestingly, this particular progress report has made me pause in a way none other has before and this Zen Mama Wannabe cannot help but wonder: what is more telling – their actual progress or our reaction to it all?

For example, is it just human nature to skim over all the high marks and go immediately to the one or two areas that aren’t given an outstanding score?  Excellent, excellent, excellent, needs improvement, excel….. WHAT WAS THAT?  NEEDS IMPROVEMENT?????  Suddenly the lights dim and the spotlight shines on the area(s) that aren’t perhaps quite up to snuff.  Thoughts immediately race toward what we can do to help our child in this area of deficit and how big a concern is this really?  But haven’t we missed something?

Helping our children (which in turn only helps our teachers) in the areas our children need help is crucial, of course.  If our child is behind in his or her multiplication facts, then it would do parents good to understand why.  Are they not practicing them enough?  Are they having trouble retaining the info because they learn better another way?  There are lots of tools out there to help all different types of learners, but it’s not up to the teachers to do this for us (as much as they may want to, they don’t have enough hours in the day!) – it is our responsibility.

But just as important as looking at the area(s) in which our kids might need help is looking at the areas where they shine.  All those Excellents weren’t put there just to make parents feel good.  They are also relaying information.  They should not be overlooked. (Seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised)!

I’ll never forget the story my sister told me of running up to our parents and proudly turning over her report card.  The one that had all A’s on it, with one A-.  Our mother glanced it over and her only comment to her was, “Oh dear, what happened?”  The crushing blow my sister felt stayed with her for years and marked the last time she voluntarily shared her grades with them.

I understand that story from both sides, because to be honest, my mom’s reaction was my immediate reaction this time around.  For the first time ever we had two boxes marked “area of concern.”  For the type of student my son is, this was shocking.  That became all I saw – not all the other top marks in all the other boxes.  How lucky for both of us he wasn’t standing right next to me because who knows what I would have said or how it would have sounded.  My sister’s story reminds me that these casual remarks can stick with kids and have a major impact on them even years later.

Upon now having had a moment to actually think, I feel sitting down with him and going over the whole report would be a good idea.  Let him see all the high marks and feel good about the things he is doing so well.  Let’s look at these 2 areas of concern and see what HE says about them.  (I already know what I think – what may be enlightening is to hear about them from him).  Then see if I can guide him into coming up with the idea of making an action plan on how he is going to work on improving.  You know what parenting experts tell us – if we get our kids to participate in making the plan, they are much more likely to buy in and follow through with it.

But just as important (again, in full disclosure) is that nothing in the Progress Report caught me off guard.  Sure, my initial reaction was off, but the actual information in the report was not.  What would have been worse is to have been completely unaware.  Especially in the elementary and middle school years, parents should make it their business to know the type of work their kids are turning in (neat, messy, thorough, incomplete, accurate, incorrect, etc), what subjects their kids breeze through, and also where they struggle a bit.

Maybe it was a good thing I had to go searching (in vain) through my son’s cubby today at school looking for the missing Progress Report.  I got to see first hand what a rat’s nest it was (“area of concern” – yeah, that’s putting it mildly).  I also got the time to THINK, not react.  It gave me the chance to become clear on what as a parent I need to do (starting with pulling that spotlight back to see the whole report — and not just focus on the negative)!  For the first time, I really learned something when looking at one of these reports – not so much about my child, but about myself – and sometimes that is just as important.

This article was originally published on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.

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One Response to “Progress Reports: Do Parents Make the Grade?”

  1. Margot Says:
    April 29th, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Another poignant post, Zen Mama. It’s so true…it’s difficult not to react to those glaring “needs improvement” scores when you know what type of student your child is. But what is critical is making sure you take the time to think through your reaction, rather than just reacting! One strategy with reviewing grades with children is to give them the opportunity to open their own grades and come to you when they have had a chance to read through it and explain all of the great stuff as well as the things that aren’t so great. This way they own it and have control of the process. It provides an opportunity for your child to think about what’s on the report card. Of course, depending on the kid they may or may not own up to it and if their teacher is really good, none of what is on the report card will be a surprise!

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