I am a strong believer in student's need to advocate for themselves. Almost to a fault, I believe that the sooner a student is able to find that confidence they will ask more questions, challenge themselves, set goals, and begin to create their own path. I feel like too often, students are talked about or talked at with the intention of supporting and motivating them. But when will a student be allowed to make adult decisions? Some would say after college or thereabout which is way too late in my opinion. Too many people can take advantage of you with long term repercussions.
School is a place where a student can learn such responsibility and need to plan. I was at a morning meeting and heard others sharing how they communicate with parents and although there are many options out there, this can be time consuming and it often takes the student out of the equation. So I set out to try an experiment and see what could be done to inform parents of their student's progress in a meaningful way that does not require a large portion of my week.
For a month now, I ask my students to write an email to their parents each week. In this email they copy and paste important dates and announcements that my teaching partner and I send to them in an email. The student accesses their grade online and pastes that into the email with a description of missing assignments and why. Then they reflect upon the week citing something that went well and perhaps an area of growth for them.
After they send it to their parents and cc my teaching partner and myself, I ask the students to respond to the email by Tuesday morning (they have sent it by Friday). The parent simply has to say, "I got it" or something similar in order for the student to get the citizenship points, but what I have found is that many parents write a longer reflective piece back about how they can help their student improve.
What saddens me is the direct correlation between parent involvement and student achievement and how many parents do not write back. We still follow up other ways but I feel so much pain for those who are not able to have as much interaction with their parents. On the other side of that, these students who were previously failing, are beginning to see their grades as their own and not something that the teacher "does to them" but a reflection of their work. I am seeing them begin to take responsibility and seeking out ways to recoup those points.
Now anyone of my students will tell you that grades are not the central focus of my classroom but if this is helping them to advocate and stand up for themselves and carry out an action plan for how they can succeed then I am extremely glad that they went through the frustration of the first semester and are figuring it out while they are still young enough to make these kind of mistakes and recover beautifully. I have seen so many students go to the edge of failing or dropping out and realize that they were better than that. But it has to come from them, no amount of browbeating, coercing, or punishment will make them see their potential. It has to come from them, we can only give them opportunities to succeed.
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