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Finding out things you didn’t know

The end of year school report is about to be issued; for the majority of children, teens and parents, this is a celebration of what has been achieved and ways in which to move forward. However, some parents can be disappointed by what they read.  In this 2-part blog, we will look at how to talk to both your child, and their teacher, about things mentioned in the report that you were unaware of. Next week, we will focus on what to do if you feel your child has not achieved as well academically as you were expecting.

What to expect from your child’s report

When children and their parents read a report, it is important that there is a clear representation of who that child is – both as a person and as a learner. The child’s personality, how they operate socially around friendships, their behaviour, and their attitude to learning should all be unique and about that child as an individual. A report should also clearly demonstrate where a child is in their academic learning, and what their next steps would be. It would also be normal to draw special attention to their successes, offer congratulations over work ethic, progress made or obstacles that have been successfully overcome.

No surprises

The report is a culmination of your child’s year in school – their successes, their strengths and of course targets, and feedback about areas for future development. Teachers agree that the reports should not contain any surprises about previously undiscussed issues such as poor behaviour, or disappointing academic results and performance. Teachers would normally address any of their issues or concerns with parents before the reports are written, let alone sent home. Teachers want to ensure good communication with parents, and this is a key part of that process.  Yet there are times when things slip through the net and it happens. So, what to do?

Telling the Truth

So, when you open the report and you read about something  you were  unaware of, it can be a rather unpleasant surprise on two levels – firstly that the teacher had not spoken about it, and secondly, neither had your child.

So firstly, let’s look at taking to your child. Here’s the tricky, yet true, thing about children – they do not always necessarily tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, all of the time. Children being children, do sometimes get themselves into mischief. They then feel the need to get out of it by not telling the truth, only telling part of the truth, or denying any wrong-doing ever took place. At the very least, yes, they may have been involved, but it was someone else’s fault entirely.

Children don’t tell their parents about some things that happen at school because they do not want to get into trouble at home. More importantly they don’t want you to be angry and disappointed with them. Your children love you – and for you to be disappointed in them is a worst-case scenario. So, to protect themselves from getting into trouble, and you from feeling this way about them, they try to get themselves out of it by not being fully truthful. Think back to some denials, half-truths or flat-out lies you may have told growing up – what was your motivation to do so?

1. Stay calm – get the facts

So, if you now find your stress levels going through the roof, before banning them from the iPad, VR, television, playdates and any ice-cream for the entire 10-week summer holiday, step back. What lesson do you want to communicate to your child about this? It’s wrong to lie or not tell you? That it makes you feel angry they did this? Or that, yes, you are sad and disappointed they didn’t tell you, and that from here on in, what you want is for them to be able to tell you the truth when things happen? Your kids need to know that you are on their side – we all do things that we shouldn’t – what matters is facing up to it, being honest, acting with integrity, and moving forward and learning from it.

2. What change do you want to see?

Sit down with them and state that you are curious about something in their report. Curiosity about this issue is an invitation for them to talk to you – it says very clearly you know what has been going on, so gives them an opening to be honest – which is, ultimately what you want. “I’m curious about your behaviour in PE lessons – what has been going on here?”  Tell them that you only want the facts and most importantly, they will not be in trouble if they talk openly and honestly about what has been happening. Encourage your child to tell the truth, even if they have been doing things they shouldn’t have. It’s very important that they will NOT be in trouble for telling the truth. Even if it’s things you don’t want to hear, you have asked them to open-up, and they feel it is safe to do so. Make an agreement and stick to it – you won’t get angry, nor will they be in trouble, if they can tell the truth and talk about what has been going on.

3. An ethos of Always Telling the Truth

Explain to them, that from now on, always telling the truth this is the most important thing. Admitting when we have done something we shouldn’t and that taking responsibility for our actions is a key life skill. It’s not OK to lie, deceive, blame others etc. What is key here is that no matter how bad it is, telling the truth is that “get out of gaol free” card. They can never be in trouble for talking to you about what they have done, so long as they are open and honest about, and learn from it. Set the expectation that you are both looking for an improvement in the report next time, (and that you’ll be checking-in with the teacher to see how they are getting on) and that they always tell the truth from now on.

4. Appropriate consequences rather than punishments

Consequences are different to punishments. The goal behind a consequence is to teach a lesson that leads to positive choices and changes in the future. Appropriate consequences tell the child that they need to take responsibility for their actions, and that they can handle things when they need to. Punishments usually involve the use of power, withdrawal of affection, and often do not teach the lesson you want them to learn.

If your child has been misbehaving in a class, then apologising to the teacher is a good way for them to take responsibility for their actions. In this case, the consequence is directly related to the behaviour. The impact of taking responsibility is far more powerful than loss of iPad time, which only causes resentment and most likely results in an argument. Matching the consequence and avoiding punitive measures is key.

5. Choosing consequences

For older primary children and teens, ask them how they can make this situation right. “OK, so this has happened now. We both agree we want it to stop, however, we need to make this right with this teacher. What can you do to make that happen?” By putting the onus on your child to come up with ideas, they have far more control and can take a greater level of responsibility for their actions. If it’s the end of term and you can’t talk to the teacher face to face, perhaps writing a letter and posting it is another option.

Talking to the teacher

It is important that you talk with the teacher too. It is unfortunate that they did not speak to you beforehand, however it needs to be successfully managed. Either send them a short email, outlining your key concerns about your child’s behaviour and that you were unaware of the situation, or if you feel you can talk without being upset, approach them to have a chat about it, or schedule a time. Calmly state that you’d like to know more about what has been happening and you’d like to work together to ensure things change for the better. Getting into a heated argument, either face to face or over email is what both sides want to avoid.

When you meet, stick to the agenda – to find out exactly what has been happening and to make sure that if happens again, you are informed. Talk to the teacher directly, rather than going to the Head or a member of the leadership team. Yes, you may have many feelings about this, however, it is the teacher that has some information about the situation and they can fill in some of the blanks. When you leave the meeting make sure the key points have been agreed. If, after the meeting, you feel that the situation has not been resolved, then let the teacher know you will be taking this to the next level.

When you meet your child’s new class teacher in August, let them know you are always interested to know if there are issues with your child. Be open about wanting to be kept informed, so that you can all work together in the best interest of your child.

Hopefully this will help communication at home – and with the school.  Let me know how you get on. Next week – when  parents feel that academic expectations haven’t been met.

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