Vignette #2 – Entering the teaching field during the age of “parent portals,” a third year high school science teacher pauses to consider the necessary balance between easily accessed information and the interpersonal time needed with families to make this data understandable and meaningful.
When Eric Monroe started teaching Earth Science and Biology to ninth graders, the technology for posting information about students was already in place. Through the parent portal, Eric found that he could easily share a range of student data with families – from grades to comments about class work and behavior. Yet despite this readily available information, Eric wonders how many parents are actually using the portal, and if they are, how useful the information is to them for better supporting their children’s progress in his class. Although there was a parent portal orientation in the fall, Eric is uncertain how many parents attended. For those who did attend, he is curious to know more about how often they tap into the portal and how helpful it is to understanding their children’s school progress? He further questions the clarity of his own expectations of what he hopes families and students will gain from the data he posts to the portal daily.
Turning to the head of the science department, Eric seeks guidance around the intention of the portals and how he can use them effectively to garner parent support and understanding of their children’s work in his class. He is relieved to find his veteran department head wrestling with similar issues, and they agree that it would be helpful to use the next department meeting to address use of parent portals and sharing data with families. Prior to the meeting, the Department Head circulates a copy of Christine L. Paton’s article, “Making Data Meaningful” and asks her colleagues to reflect on the following questions highlighted in the article: “Think about how you currently share data with parents. Do you find ways to cultivate ongoing conversations with parents about student performance? Do you include enough interpersonal, face-to-face time with parents to help contextualize the data that they see online or in written reports?” When the department members meet, they find that they have more questions than answers. In addition to the two parent-teacher conference times and back to school night, they wonder about the quality of interpersonal connections their colleagues are having with parents. It is helpful to share experiences and strategies for connecting with the families of their 80+ students. Eric particularly appreciates the dialogue that forms around how to help contextualize the data available in the portals and how as a department they might uniformly make better use of the data to give parents a voice in outlining goals for the growth and success of their children.
In order for parents to be effective in this process, the group realizes that families will need opportunities to learn more about the portal and how to interpret the data. The teachers decide that a prudent first step must include a survey sent out to gather information about how the parents view and use the portal, if at all. Based on this information, the teachers agree that it would be helpful to design an information/training program on the portals that could be offered at various school events beyond orientation: a short session at back to school night, a session prior to parent-teacher conferences, a session before the fall music concert (and other art events that draw parents into the school), and finally, an on-line training that parents could access via the school and classroom websites. Once parents are trained and made aware of the function of the portal as a means of helping their kids (beyond checking out grades), Eric thinks about the various ways that he could pass helpful information on – to assist students who are struggling and to inspire students who could benefit from parent support around new challenges. He considers how he might include these resources on the portal and link them directly to grades and comments for each unit of study. Like his colleagues, Eric still wonders how much interpersonal follow up would be needed for portal postings. The teachers conclude with an agenda item to consider for the next meeting: coming up with a written guide that could advise parents and teachers about what data on the portal can and should be followed up with a phone call or e-mail between school and home.
- From The Harvard Family Research Project, Christine Patton in Making Data Meaningful, explores the changing conversation about how/why we share data with families and the key components to making data meaningful for learning.
- Data Sharing Through Parent Portals: An Exploration of Parental Motivation, Data Use, and the Promise of Prolonged Parent Involvement – An interesting summary of research on the parent portals that addresses the following questions: Why do parents use a parent portal? Does parent access to a parent portal support home-school communication? How do parents use data provided via a parent portal? Does use of a parent portal help to offset the traditional decline in parental involvement as children move through middle school?