That perennial time of the school year is almost here – report card time. For teachers, it’s an opportunity to share what’s working, what’s not working, and where important growth may be needed for students to be “the best they can be” (sometimes referred to as being the best version of themselves). Fundamentally, however, the reporting of student learning, progress, and social/emotional development is really all about (you guessed it) the student. At times, the whole experience of reporting on student progress can seem a bit more complex than just describing a child’s progress and achievement. There are those moments when parents (and teachers!) can feel like a child’s report card is a subtle indictment of either parenting or teaching abilities. When this happens, we can all be left wondering, “Whose report card is it any way?”
It’s true that all parents and teachers want children to enjoy learning and to succeed academically. That is not a controversial statement. Most children want to please their parents and do well. But it is also true that as parents, we can have a hard time managing our feelings of disappointment or pleasure when we review our child’s report card. We can overly praise our child for doing the job they are supposed to be doing….making them uncomfortable. Or, we can be critical when the report card is less than stellar, which results in another message. A version of this can happen in almost every home at various times during the school years.
According to parenting guru Adina Soclof, most mental health professionals feel that parents should not become overly invested in their children’s school work. She believes that when parents show too much interest in their kid’s work, children can become anxious about school, which can lead to perfectionism or a lack of motivation. Soclof also points out that children can also feel that their parents do not care about them as people and are only proud of them if they get good grades.
While remaining engaged is part of our job, as parents we need to detach ourselves emotionally when our children bring home their report cards. It should be viewed as an opportunity to celebrate their successes and help them assess and self-monitor their work and effort. But – and this is the challenging bit – it is also the best time to reinforce the message that school and grades are the child’s responsibility.
Of course, there is a huge caveat here, especially when viewed through the lens of legitimate learning difficulties in the case of some children. Struggling students need support, structure, appropriate programming, and skilled instruction in order to succeed. But, setting aside the special circumstances of learning exceptionalities, we all need to practice letting our kids take ownership and responsibility for their effort and performance as students.
Whether we are happy or disappointed with our child’s report card, we need to have a discussion together with them about the results. This discussion is an important part of helping our children succeed by knowing their strengths and weaknesses. It also helps our kids see us as active supporters in their learning – but not as their educational brokers.
In the end, it’s got to be largely “their thing” and we need to help them accept this and learn to take responsibility in an early and ongoing way.
Ric Anderson, Head of School