We’ve all been there, whether as a teacher or administrator, when an upset parent of a struggling student approaches you to demand answers on why their student is failing. While most of the time communicating with parents is on more amicable terms and we all know that upset parents are only upset because they care about their kid and want them to be successful, it’s always nice to have data at your fingertips to ground the conversation. While we usually go to the gradebook for this data, and sometimes other sources like a homework completion tracker, if your school has flextime built into the schedule you have another great set of data at your disposal that can also show effort from both the teacher and student perspective.
In this post we’ll share briefly why parent communication is important, 3 examples of flextime data that could be used for communicating with parents, and how this data can help improve the quality of parental interactions. If you’re looking for general tips on difficult parent conversations, we recommend checking out this Education.com post. If you’re looking for more info on what a flextime period is, check out our What is a Flextime Period? Post to learn more.
Why is this Important?
I still remember the day I learned the power of using data in parent conversations. In my early teaching days, I struggled to get my students accustomed to homework, as it seemed like it was not the norm in my school by the time they got to seventh grade. I saw a homework tracker in a colleague’s classroom and decided to try it out myself. While this certainly helped, as clearly sharing data does for holding oneself and others accountable, it wasn’t until a mother came into my room, unannounced, a few months into school. She was upset that her son wasn’t doing better in my class, as he was undoubtedly very smart and capable. While he scored decently on tests (mostly Bs and occasional Cs), he had a C in my class at the time in large part because he wasn’t regularly completing his homework. Having the homework tracker data at my disposal quickly shifted the conversation to the root cause of his lower grade. The mother and I could quickly get on the same page and the student was unable to deflect. It was like magic - his homework completion increased almost immediately and it was much easier to make a call as soon as I saw it slip to present ourselves as a united front with the student. I then made sure to always keep as much data on hand as possible and bring it to my conversations with parents whenever possible.
While I’m sure many of us have a similar story of our own and need no convincing that effective communication with parents is good for students, there is quantitative evidence to support this as well. According to a Harvard study by Matthew Kraft and Shaun Dougherty, “[on] average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%.”
3 Types of Flextime Data for Parent Communication
Student Request Data
For schools that incorporate student choice and voice into their school’s flextime, one of the most important pieces of flextime data for communicating with parents are student requests. If you think about it, there is nothing more powerful than tapping into the student’s actions when trying to understand them better, whether as a teacher or parent. Thus, accessing and sharing it with a parent so they can get a clearer picture of what their student does while at school is among the best places to start.
Gathering data that shows the number of times a student requested a teacher in the last month (or semester) is a great place to start, especially if the student isn’t doing well in that teacher’s class. Even if the student wasn’t assigned to that teacher each time, it’s a great way to show how much effort the student is putting into getting additional support. It’s a very different type of conversation with a parent around supporting a student that has not requested a teacher at all in the last four months vs. a student that has requested to see that teacher more than once a week on average. In the former, it’s clear that the student is not invested in seeking out help (or possibly has an issue around accessing the system that they have not resolved, assuming they aren’t requesting to go anywhere else either). In the latter, it’s clear the student is making an effort to get the support they need. Knowing this concretely helps focus on uncovering the right underlying cause and finding the right solution for both the teacher and the parent.
If you want to go a step further, looking at all the student requests over that time could be helpful. If they didn’t request to see a specific teacher but requested to go to the gym for basketball everyday, that is again much different than requesting to see a different teacher that they also need help from. It’s also helpful to know if the student is requesting you for tutoring sessions or only when you’re running an extra-curricular club meeting. Again, knowing the trends across all requests from a student gives the parent (and you!) even more insight into the effort they’re making and how they’re trying to spend their time.
Teacher Request Data
If knowing a student’s requests are the first stage, you probably guessed that getting teacher request data would be the other piece of the puzzle needed to get a fuller picture. For schools that allow teachers to request students during their flextime (which is the majority of them in our experience), this is another great place to start. This is especially true if you have any sense from a parent that they’re coming in to blame the teacher for not making an effort to help their student (at least if the teacher has been leveraging their flextime to support this student).
Again, starting with the data that shows the number of times a teacher has requested a student in the last month or semester is the best place to start. If you’re the teacher, this shows how often you’re looking to see this student outside of regular class time. Assuming you’re leveraging flextime to support struggling students, this data will show that you’re consistently seeking extra time to intervene with the student. This is especially important in shifting the conversation when a parent might not be assuming the best or have heard from their child that their teacher doesn’t care and isn’t making an effort to give them help. If you’re a principal, this can also be crucial data to support your teachers and hold them accountable for utilizing their flextime well. If a teacher has been getting extra flextime with struggling students consistently but they aren’t making progress, the teacher likely needs coaching on how to reach struggling students or break down their content differently. If the teacher isn’t requesting struggling students regularly, then they likely need an intervention around their motivation or skills in whatever system your school uses to request and assign students.
Student Assignment Data
Lastly, another important piece of flextime data for communicating with parents is student assignment data. While knowing how often a student or teacher are requesting each other is important, it’s also important to know how much time they’re actually seeing each other. If a math teacher requested to see a student multiple times a week for the last two months but the student consistently went to see their English teacher, that could easily explain why the student has not made more progress in math, despite the math teacher’s effort here. If this is happening, it begs the question around the system (both technical and procedural) being used to assign the student. While it may be possible the administration (or someone else) has decided that for this particular student, if not all students, English takes precedence over math, it’s also likely the system should be reevaluated to give the student more math support as well. Having this information on hand can help the parent better understand the larger system for flextime and how to advocate for appropriate changes, if they’d like to. It can also allow the teacher and parent to problem-solve how else to get their student more support, whether inside or outside of school.
While using data to inform student support has become more common in schools and subsequently made its way into parent communication, albeit at a slightly slower rate, it’s important not to overlook flextime data as another important data source when communicating with parents. Knowing how often students try to get additional support, how often teachers seek students out to provide additional support, and how much time they actually get together during flextime can help paint a more holistic story for a parent understanding their child’s experience at school and the efforts made by the school in supporting him/her. At the end of the day, parents all want their child(ren) to be successful and to know more about their student’s experience at school. Data makes this much clearer and more efficient.
If this is something you want more information about or you don’t yet have a system that gives you all these data points for your flextime, feel free to setup a time with a member of the Edficiency team to learn more. We’d be happy to share more about how we’ve helped schools do this with easy to pull reports like those mentioned in this post.