Is our system of reporting to parents fit for purpose?

Each year, I spend somewhere in the region of 70 hours (outside normal working hours) writing reports which are to be sent home to parents. These reports are meant to give an overview of the student’s progress throughout the year and inform parents on their child’s strengths and weaknesses. I get the feeling, however, that the time I am spending has very little impact on the student and their progress.

My school has recently focussed on impactful assessment and feedback, encouraging us to spend less time writing detailed feedback and more time getting students to respond to feedback. This has been largely successful – teachers are spending less time marking and students are gaining more from the feedback given (win-win!).

We have not, however, extended this new mantra to report writing. As a teacher of a creative subject, this is one of the most stressful parts of the year due to the sheer volume of reports that I must complete. It varies each year, but I usually have to write 400-500 reports yearly, each containing an adequate and imformative assessment of the student. If I am unable to provide an individual report, I feel as though I have failed in knowing my students.

After a number of years of writing highly personalised reports, I am becoming disenchanted as I don’t believe that they are impactful – I am unable to see that what I write in the report has any impact on the progress of the student in my classroom. This is in stark contrast to parents’ evening, where the change in a student’s attitude to the lessons is immediately noticeable.

The difference between the report and parents’ evening is that parents are able to respond to my feedback immediately and I am able to respond to their response. They can ask me questions about my comments and I am able to obtain a bigger picture for that student. When I send home a piece of paper with some comments on, I have no idea if the parent has even read the comments!

In an age where technology is growing, I wonder whether the paper is fit for purpose and we should consider if there are alternatives to allow more dialogue between teachers and parents, as demonstrated in my parents’ evening example. There are many ways of approaching this – whether it be digital reports with comments boxes for parents, or even the expansion of parents evenings, but we really must start to consider how efficient the system is and if there is a more efficient alternative.

Traffic lights are the cause of all society’s problems

On a number of occasions, I have been mocked by my colleagues for my level of disdain for our country’s roads. Our roads demonstrate every negative aspect of society and there is one significant culprit – the traffic light.

In our education system, we aim to help students develop into thoughtful individuals who have the maturity to question what is presented to them on a daily basis. We promote thoughtfulness and politeness, helping students to consider the needs and feelings of other people.

The humble traffic light may seem like a simple road accessory; however it entirely strips away all of these qualities that our education system has enforced and is one of the reasons why, at times, road users get so irate and so irrational. The traffic light is an inhuman beast which tells us what we are to do with no concern for us as individuals. The red lights tells us that we must stop and we believe that the green light gives us the right to proceed. There is no humility, no sympathy, no understanding of feelings or mood. We are just another car, a number in the system.

I have experienced a number of occasions when traffic lights have stopped working and something magical happens – drivers are courteous, thoughtful and considerate, all the qualities that we try to instil at school. We are able to respond to other humans and this makes us kinder and more pleasant drivers. The traffic light is a competition – something that we are aiming to beat, whereas another human has feelings.

Whilst this may seem like a tirade against the idiotic traffic light, it also has a bearing on the way in which we run businesses and, more importantly, education. With the ever-increasing prevalence of technology comes the increase in automation, even with the suggestion of replacing teachers with robots or videos. The way in which we, as humans, respond to traffic lights should sound warning bells in our minds – will students respond as positively to an inhuman teacher as they would to a person?

Next time you are sitting in a traffic jam, consider that question.

Are we ever safe on the internet?

Following the sudden focus on social networking in my school, I thought it was a good time for me to post some thoughts on the safety of social media following the excellent post by Mike Tidd on TiddTalk.

I have always been interested in the security of social media, and have kept up-to-date with the developments that sites like Facebook and Twitter have made to their security settings. I was particularly aggravated when Facebook removed the feature which stopped people searching for me by name.

When I decided to become a teacher, it seemed as though everything that I learned through my own interests was going to be lost and my vital connection to friends across the world would disappear. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we should get rid of our social media accounts and, at least, we should change our names on facebook so we would not be found by students. Many of my teaching friends now have accounts which bear their first name and middle name rather than their surname.

This technique is all well and good if your friends do the same thing, or you are not friends with anyone you work with. It only takes one stray teacher account for students to access your account as students are not stupid – they know our first names and can work out from profile pictures that it is you.

My greatest problem with this technique is that it provides a false layer of security and those who are less experienced can be fooled into thinking that they are safe. The honest truth is that if we want to ply the internet with our personal lives, we are never truly safe from students finding out. Whether it be an inadvertent share by a less vigilant colleague, or a mistake on our part, we must always assume that what we say can be read by those whom we would prefer it not read by.

I have developed a technique with my students over the past few years – you always get questions from them as they are naturally curious. I tried, at first, to deflect the questions and not answer them – things like “What’s your first name?” and “How old are you?”. Punishing them for showing qualities which we promote in the classroom is not an option; we want them to ask questions and find out about the world. Now, instead of avoiding the questions, I just answer them straight out – the game of finding out is then immediately gone and they leave me alone. We should do the same with social media.

On a number of occasions, students have said to me “I found you on facebook”. At first I used to panic and think that I would get into trouble – my PGCE lecture on social media had made me panic about such situations; I had made a mistake and was not secure enough; however now I am more experienced and say “Ok” and very little else. I am secure in the knowledge that they can find me because I know that there is nothing interesting there. What they can see is boring and normal – and the game of the teachers on social media is gone.

We are never safe on the internet, but we should not avoid using it because we are worried about students. To remain as safe as possible, we just need to consider what we share.