September 16, 2013
As the first few days of school pass and the initial enthusiasm of the boys is tempered by the need to refocus on study, many of you wonder how everything is going. What would it be like to be a “fly on the wall” in my son’s classes? How is my son doing socially and academically? Is he forming good friendships? Is he engaged in class and contributing to a positive tone?
Much information that you receive comes from the stories that your son tells, stories that are colored by his particular perspective. A lower school boy may readily describe the “fort” that he and his friends are building but only yield information about what is happening in math class when specifically asked. Some middle and upper school boys may not talk at all about school. And others may only describe a humorous event that happened in class or during a break. You may talk to other parents, compare notes and piece together a “picture” of what a day at The Heights is like. At the Back-To-School nights, you have the opportunity to hear your son’s teachers describe their academic goals for the year. Ideally, a relationship of trust will develop between you and your son’s teachers, a partnership will be strengthened, frequent communication will become the norm and, together, you and the teachers will conspire for the good of your son.
Our joint mission of educating your son informs this personal approach to communication. In an age when communication increasingly takes place online, whether through email, text messages, social media postings, Web portals or even videos, there is still an irreplaceable role for human conversation when it comes to something as important as the education and formation of your son. The different forms of online communication are good and useful tools. These communication tools do, however, have limitations and can be misused. Something is lost when the tone of a human conversation is replaced with a quick email, a form of communication that is nearly incapable of conveying the true tone of human meaning. A teacher’s gradebook when made available online is transformed from a teacher’s tool to help him track academic progress, to an observer’s limited window into a student’s educational achievement. Such a view, void of the texture of academic growth the teacher knows but does not represent in a grade, will likely lead the observer to confuse a part for the whole, and thus be misinformed as to that student’s true academic achievement and challenges.
With this perspective in mind, here are some specific characteristics to our approach to communication regarding your son’s academic growth:
- Your son has an advisor who will meet with him on a regular basis and will work with you to help you guide his growth into manhood. You should meet face to face with your son’s advisor sometime in the first few weeks of school and thus start regular conversations with him.
- You should feel free to contact directly any teacher at any time. Email can be used well for brief, simple messages such as setting up a time to meet or talk, asking factual information about an assignment, informing teachers about an upcoming absence because of a doctor’s appointment and so on. Communication about more personal matters, matters where the use of a human voice is important to convey shades of meaning, should be done either over the phone or in person. Teachers are expected to return parent emails or phone messages within 24 hours.
- Upper and middle school teachers are expected to send home two formal academic progress reports for each of the first three quarters and one progress report for the fourth quarter. For the first quarter these progress reports will be arriving home on or near Tuesday, September 24 and Thursday, October 10. Most teachers will send these progress reports via email, although some may contact parents by phone instead. Progress reports will update you on your son’s current grade average, indicate areas for improvement, and at times include practical suggestions and information about the progress of the class. These reports are meant to be part of an ongoing conversation and in many cases serve to promote more helpful conversations, in person.
- Many of the teachers who will be sending progress reports by email will be using a computer program called Engrade. We believe this program will be an improvement over the Edline system that we used for this purpose the past few years. Significantly, Engrade allows teachers to directly email progress reports to parents, where Edline required parents to sign in to a separate Web portal to access information.
- For philosophical reasons, we are not going to use all the settings Engrade offers, most notably the constant access to a teacher’s gradebook. As a savvy parent, you need to know the bottom line, the current grade average your son holds, and how to help him develop the academic skills necessary to improve on his own, becoming more independent. While it is true that knowing when an assignment has been missed is at times useful, there is a danger of managing your son’s academic work for him, as an executive administrative assistant of sorts. Students who have been managed in this way tend to have a difficult time developing the skills necessary to be successful when on their own. It is much better if parents and teachers work together to foster responsibility and independence in students. Opening teacher grade books to parents would change the tone of our school and compromise our personal approach to education. Fundamentally, education is not a process that can be managed in a technical way. Education is a human reality that involves the formation of mental habits, a narrative sense of history and literature, a desire to seek truth, and the ability to analyze and express ideas. The approach to the communication of grades that we have chosen supports this educational mission well.
- Lower school progress reports consist in mid-quarter phone conversations between you and your son’s homeroom teacher. Most lower school teachers will use email to set up times for these conversations. If you prefer to meet in person, you are welcome to set up such meetings instead of the phone conversations. In these conversations the homeroom teacher will update you on the progress of your son in all his classes and discuss areas for future improvement. Typically, these conversations will be just one additional conversation among many between you and your son’s homeroom teacher.
- Report cards are issued quarterly. After the first three report card periods are parent-teacher conferences (dates are listed on the school calendar and website). We developed our own program where parents can sign-up online ahead of time for times to meet with teachers. Information on how to use this program will be sent to parents via email as the date for the conferences approaches. Teachers are available to meet other times if you are not able to set up an appointment with them during these parent-teacher conference afternoons.
- Finally, one of the purposes of social events at school, such as the upcoming Fall Garden Party, is to provide a venue for parents and teachers to meet and begin to develop friendships, getting to know each other in a more relaxed setting. I would encourage you to attend this delightful event if possible.
I hope this letter helps you to understand how we purport to carry-out the dual purpose of parent-teacher communications at The Heights. First, our hope is that communications will be as substantive as possible and centered on your son’s growth. Such communications must therefore not be limited to grades, but rather encompass traits and attitudes that often signify a young man’s intellectual and professional development: his approach to learning, his attitude toward his work, his engagement in class, his ability to focus and demonstrate mental discipline, and the like. Second, these communications also intend to serve as a stage for a bond between you and your son’s teachers to flourish. A good meeting of the minds between parents and teachers benefits your son by surrounding his educational experiences with a common goal and method.
Alvaro de Vicente