I find it helpful to think of progress reports as just one of the components in my overall parent relations strategy. Building a strong connection with parents is an essential piece of running a successful classroom and school. Keeping this in mind, we can structure our progress reports in a way that meets our overall goals for developing parent partnerships.
Below are 9 keys that we incorporate into our semi-annual written progress reports.
1. Use a narrative format
Parents have a hunger to know what their children are doing when they are away from them. How are they getting on with other children? Are they happy? What do they love to do? Do the teachers love them? Do they see them?
A checklist will never fully serve this need. Neither will a few short comments. A thoughtfully written narrative is the best way to adequately convey the depth of knowledge you have about the child.
If you do use a checklist, make sure it is a minor part of the complete progress report package. To most parents, terms such as “constructive triangles- small hexagon box” or “golden bead static addition” are a mystery. Any list of materials should always indicate where a parent can get more information about the material and how it fits into the overall sequence.
2. Provide a holistic view of the child’s development rather than focusing only on academic progress
If describing the child’s choices and development in the various curriculum areas takes up more than 60% of your report, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board!
Children are holistic beings and a Montessori environment caters to the whole child. In addition to the academics, be sure to include information about social development, motor development, concentration, independence, work habits, you get the idea!
3. Make 5 positive comments for every negative comment
Stephen Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, explained the concept of an emotional bank account. Every positive interaction you have with a person makes “deposits” into that person’s emotional bank account. Every negative interaction makes a withdrawal from that account. The more deposits you make before you attempt to make a withdrawal, the stronger the account and the relationship.
It is, however, not quite as simple as that. Unfortunately, even mild negative interactions can pack quite a punch and quickly deplete the emotional bank account you have been building up. When writing progress reports, aim to provide 5-8 positive comments about the child for every single potentially negative comment you make.
4. Describe your observations; don’t make a diagnosis
Accurately describe your observations of challenging behaviors but refrain from making any diagnostic comments! It is appropriate to say, “Johnny often needs assistance to help him stay on task” but NOT “Johnny is hyperactive”
Accurate, detailed descriptions of a child’s behavior can be very effective in conveying the essence of a challenging issue. Labeling a child is not your job and can often create distance between you and the parent at a time when you most need to be working together.
5. Describe the strategies you are using to address any challenges mentioned in your report
Don’t leave parents hanging if you bring up a challenge their child is facing! It is very reassuring to parents when you follow up with a description of the strategies you have been using to address the issue, and the degree of success you have had with them. Whether or not the strategies have been effective, it demonstrates clearly to the parents that you are in control of the situation and that you are not about to abandon their child.
When you simply list a child’s challenges you may be perceived as a complainer but when you describe what you are doing to help, you become an ally in the parents’ quest for doing the best for their child.
This also opens up a dialog with the parents who will often start thinking of alternate strategies they have been using at home in similar situations.
Of course, detailed information of this type will be of immeasurable help if the parents decide to pursue any external support services as well.
6. Include memorable anecdotes
Don’t underestimate the value of the “warm and fuzzies”. Parents want to know that you love their child and are as moved by his special ways as they are.
Make it a point to note down one or two specific incidents that highlight the unique way the child would react to a situation. Don’t be afraid of writing down jokes the child has made up, something special he wrote for picture-story, kind words he said to a child who accidentally pushed him, or the day he spent 20 minutes staring out the window in awe at a bird building it’s nest.
Warm and fuzzies build up that emotional bank account faster than anything!
7. Refer to past challenges that have shown progress
Always check back to previous reports and the challenges the child had been facing. Make sure you celebrate the progress that has been made since then. Sometimes children grow so much over the course of a summer or semester that we forget that what seems so easy for them now was causing us concern before.
This is particularly important for a child who has many issues. Reassure yourself and the parent that the child is indeed making progress!
8. Never write about problems that you have not already discussed with the parent face-to-face
That would be the biggest progress report faux pas of all! There should be no unpleasant surprises in a written progress report. (Pleasant surprises are always welcome) Make sure you have a face-to- face meeting to discuss troubling issues prior to writing the report. Use your body language and tone of voice to be as reassuring as possible. In your report you can refer to the meeting and strategies discussed.
9. Start and end on a positive note
We tend to remember the things we encounter first and last in a sequence of items. Even if you have a lot of troubling issues to tackle in the report, you can still start and end on a positive note. Remember, you are providing a view of the whole child; this is not the time to emphasize one particular challenge- that is best done face to face. Use this opportunity to convey a well rounded portrait of the child.
If you are looking for more comprehensive training on preparing for parent-teacher conferences and progress reports, I highly recommend this webinar with Jonathan Wolff: Tune Up for Parent Teacher Conferences and Progress Reports.