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Monday, December 1, 2014

School Reports - Keepsakes of Learning



The end of year is a busy time for teachers.

All around the country, teachers’ are putting the final touches on their end of year school reports as senior leadership teams and principals’ are reading, proofing and running a metaphorical fine tooth comb over them.  Chances are your principal is just as pedantic and particular about the quality of the school reports that go home, as I am.

Whenever I catch up with my colleagues’ at this time of year, we often share our collective wonderings, concerns and general grumbles about how many we read, how many we have to send back to be fixed and how time consuming the process of sending reports back to be modified is.  In a recent round of 'sharing' our collective thoughts on the subject, it occurred to me that perhaps teachers’ don't realise why we are so meticulous, and that perhaps our collective thinking on the matter might shed some light on why, if you have ever wondered, principals’/headteachers’ are so particular about it, and why we read every single word you write.

Firstly, some quick hints (garnered from a range of senior leaders’):

1. Spell the child’s name correctly, and because it is a formal record of learning, use their correct name, not a nickname, on the front page.

2. Try and start your comments and finish them with something positive.  Remember that parents’ and students’ will be reading these, now and in the future, and whilst you may well have some not so 'soft' comments to make, wrapping them up in a sandwich of positive has to be healthy for a child (and their parents’) self esteem.   Even the most frustrating child has something golden within them, and that’s the thing that both parent and child will remember and thank you for.

3. There shouldn't be anything in a school report that is a surprise.  If your lines of communication have been open and transparent though-out the year then any issues you raise won't be a surprise.  This goes for achievement levels as well.  It a students’ learning is not where it should be, I would expect that as the teacher, you would have had this conversation with the parents’/child well before report writing time.

4. I expect this might cause a bit of controversy, but I am no fan of cut and paste.  I appreciate time is of the essence but you have taught this child for a year.  It would be my expectation that you can tell a story about that child that is pertinent to them - not one that is the same for all students.  With my parent hat on, I don't want my child to come home with a pro forma school report - that tells me nothing about who she is as a person, what I need to do to help her and what her next learning steps are.  Cut and paste/pro forma reporting makes me wonder if you actually know my child at all, or if they were just a bystander in your class all year.

5. When you write comments about curriculum, make it pertinent to what students’ have actually studied and what level or stage a child is actually working on.

6. Be consistent with the language of things, and the spelling of phrases or words.  When you are reading a large pile of reports from a classroom and the same word is spelt differently or has an inconsistent use of capitalisation in the same report, it becomes quite frustrating and I return these.

7. Don't be afraid of punctuation.  Long winded sentences lose parents’.  Sometimes, short and succinct is better.

8. Avoid jargon and complex technical words.  Education is full of jargon and acronyms and most parents don't care about that, they just want to know what is happening, what they can do to help and what you are doing about any issues.

9.  If your report includes attendance or punctuality, and you mark either as not being satisfactory, explain that in your comments section.  The same should apply for when students’ are not at cohort or conversely if they are exceeding expectations.

10. Don't be stingy with your comments.  Let parents’ know how well you know their child.

Setting high standards for the quality of school reports is not about trying to make a teachers’ job harder or because we don't have anything less time consuming to do.   School reports are a record of the time a child has spent in your class.  For parents’, it is deeper than just providing a picture of their childs’ learning, it also shows them what you know of their child, and it provides them with a keepsake of their little (or not so little) persons learning.

Reading school reports about the students in my school is one of the highlights of the year.  I get an opportunity to see our students’ through the eyes of the teacher, and it never fails to impress me just how well teachers do know their children.   I know how many hours they take to write, and that at times, it can seem a thankless task.   Part of our role in report writing is quality control.

As leaders’, we need to be assured that what leaves our school is a good reflection of both your abilities as a professional, and of the quality of our school.   It is not a good look to send out substandard reports to parents and caregivers’.

When I read school reports, not only do I look at it from a leaders’ perspective, but I wear my parents hat, and I look at it from the perspective of a parent.  I ask myself, how well do you know this child and can I see that in the report.  It is what I would expect for my child and it is what I would want you to expect for all parents’ and their children.  I ask myself, would I be happy to get this report in my house?   My colleagues tell me they do the same.

Finally, remember that school reports are a celebration of a students’ learning and that these are going home to parents’ who love and care for their children.  Every day they drop off that which is most precious to them, and it is a privilege to be entrusted with such a responsibility.  This is your chance to show them how well you know their child.   For children and their families’ these are keepsakes.

ps  On behalf of parents’, students’ and your leadership team, thank you for how hard you work.

2 comments:

  1. Great insights into how reports are viewed from the swively chair. Have you read @boonman's blog on reports yet?

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  2. Yes, and it was very good food for thought, something very much worth investigating. I also love the idea of students writing their own reports to go beside the one their teacher writes. I wonder what correlations one might see?

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