Family Learning | December 21, 2021

What do Parents and Teachers Want this Year? A Shared Understanding of Student Progress

By Windy Lopez-Aflitto

Teacher Sitting at a School Desk Showing a Book to a Parent and Her Son

As the mom of a 2nd grader and Preschooler, my heart is with all the parents out there who continue to overcome the endless challenges and day-to-day worries brought on by the past year. And, as a former teacher and daughter of a teacher, I’m also deeply empathic on the impact of COVID 19 on educators. As we think about the year ahead, what do parents and teachers need and want to ensure a happy and successful school year? 

According to new national research, parents, teachers and principals agree on the top three overall priorities for the school year: 

  1. safety and security of students and staff, 
  2. addressing academics, 
  3. students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing.

They also all agree that providing parents with a clear picture of their child’s achievement is the top priority as it relates to school communications. 

Why is having a clear picture of your child’s progress important? Unfortunately, there are gaps between what parents think and teachers know about student achievement. More than 9 in 10 parents (92%) think their child is at/above grade level while only 44% of teachers believe their students are prepared for grade level work this year. Candid conversations aren’t always easy (especially when we’re all strapped for time) but when parents and teachers have a shared understanding of progress we’re better able to do our part. For me, this means celebrating my oldest daughter’s progress and passion for reading and writing, and taking a closer (and harder) look at where she needs more support in math. After reviewing the beginning of year benchmark data sent home from her school (they use MAP Growth), taking my own observations into consideration, and having an honest conversation with her teacher, we came up with a plan that includes focusing on foundational skills at home every day through fun games and getting her extra help at school. 

What can parents do during key points of the year?  Here are 5 ideas to help with what we care most about as parents–our children’s emotional wellbeing and happiness as well as academic progress.

  1. Connect with your child’s teacher, regularly. According to national research, teachers say the best way to know how your child is progressing is to be in regular touch with them. Check out this Parent Minutes video to see what that communication looks like for one NYC Dad and think about how you’ll stay in touch with the teacher during the rest of the school year.
  2. Consider multiple measures of progress–not just grades. The majority of parents report their children get As and Bs and they believe those grades mean grade level mastery. Yet, teachers say grades mean effort more than mastery and say parents rely too much on grades alone. Consider classroom work, quizzes and your own observations to get a more complete picture of your child’s progress. Try the Readiness Check for a sense of how your child learned last year’s skills that are important for this year and get resources and more to support those skills at home!
  3. Lean into how your child is feeling and what makes them shine. Parents intuitively know what brain science tells us–social, emotional and academic skills are all connected and critical for success in school and beyond. Even a few minutes daily of checking in with your child can go a long way. My daughter and I have a daily routine where she shares something I don’t know about school and I tell her a short story about my childhood (that one was her idea!). It only takes 10 minutes and it’s the best part of my day. Here’s what it looks like for another NYC mom in this Parenting Minutes video.   
  4. Tap your community and school resources. According to parents, extracurricular time programs and opportunities are where passions and purpose are fueled. We’re lucky to live in an area with so many rich (and free) programs, events and resources. We found a local after school art class that is the highlight of my daughter’s week. I’m so grateful to our neighbors who told us about it since we are new to the community. Want to learn more about community programs? Ask a friend, neighbor, or your Parent Coordinator. 
  5. Have fun and bond as a family! While the day to day is heavy for working parents trying to balance it all, I find the weight lifts when I stop to take in the little things and moments that bring us together as a family. For us, that means celebrating our Colombian traditions, finding time to dance, play board games, and laugh together. Whatever your family traditions are, have fun and remember that playing is learning. 

According to this national research, parents and educators agree that deeper engagement between families and schools is essential and report they will be as or more involved this year than they were last year. And, they say that ‘trust’ and ‘teamwork’ is what’s most important. As a parent, those words resonate. It means doing my part at key points of the school year; reaching out to my children’s teachers to check in on progress and sharing what I’m noticing at home. It also means trusting my gut on what my children need socially, emotionally and academically including the resources and people around me that can help.

Windy Lopez-Aflitto is Vice President of Content and Partnerships at the family engagement nonprofit Learning Heroes and a former elementary school teacher. She has 20 years of experience in family engagement, education, and philanthropy. Prior to Learning Heroes, she was at American Express working on nonprofit leadership development, and previously at Scholastic, where she played a key role in launching the company’s first family and community engagement initiative.