How to Break Big News Before Parent-Teacher Conferences

When I first started teaching, I dreaded the end of the grading period. Students lined up wanting extra credit who placed the blame for their poor grades on me. Report cards would go home, and I’d receive angry parent emails wondering how in the world their child got a “C” in art class.

While I’m sure there were only a few emails, the weight of them felt like hundreds.

I knew there had to be a better way.

So, how do we increase communication about students’ grades without increasing our workload?

desk in classroom

The first way is to stop avoiding the fact that a student isn’t doing well. It doesn’t do you any favors, and it certainly doesn’t do the student any favors. You must teach students to be responsible for their grades. The way to do this is to have honest conversations with students and parents about your expectations and assessment procedures. Don’t wait until conferences when it’s too late for improvement!

It took me a few years and a handful of meetings with frustrated parents to develop a plan that worked well for all parties: Grade Reflection Sheets.

In my classroom, students completed a grade reflection sheet twice per grading period, once at the midpoint and again about two weeks before the grading period ended. I had students log onto their grade book to check how they were doing and record it on the sheet. Then, they used the sheet below to set realistic goals for the rest of grading period.

Grading Reflection Download

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Using the sheet above, you can see all students are asked to come up with three actionable goals for the rest of the grading period, while those with lower grades are asked to complete a few additional steps. If you have a student who misses a lot of class, print out a progress report and mail the report along with a blank reflection sheet home.

4 Reasons this Method Works

  1. It provides you with documentation that ALL students are aware of their grade.
  2. Students with low grades can create an improvement plan.
  3. It sets the tone for students that they EARN their grade and need to take responsibility for it.
  4. You no longer need to think about what to write to parents. Instead, you can scan the student’s form and send it to them.

This year, don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences to drop the bomb that a student is failing. Be proactive, put the student in the driver’s seat, and save yourself the time and frustration.

What is the number one phrase you hear from parents when a student earns a poor grade?

What can you learn from that phrase, and what tool can you develop to change the conversation?

Amber Kane

AOE Admin

Amber Kane is a High School Art Teacher and textile designer in PA. Through questioning and a focus on the creative thought process, she strives to help her students uncover their personal voice and see how they can use art to create impact.


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  • Mr. Post

    When I taught middle school I would let the kids turn in any work up until the day before grades were due. The other teachers in the building told me what a bad idea this was and that I would be deluged with late work to grade. That never happened. I would get a dozen or so late works to grade. Then when parents complained about a grade I would remind them of my policy of letting a student turn in any missing work right up until the last day. The parents then knew that I gave their child every opportunity to succeed and it was the student who chose to fail. I also sent home progress reports every week or two for kids who had missing work.

  • Abby Fliehler

    This is GREAT! Thanks so much for sharing/creating this form! This will come in very handy with some middle school students who seem to have amnesia when their report cards come out.

    • Amber Kane

      You’re welcome!

  • Jackie Tan

    This is brilliant. I am going to use it in my maker elective.

    • amberkanescarves

      Great! So glad that you found it helpful.

  • Kristen Sellers

    This is perfect. I teach k-6 and take grades for 5/6. At the 6th grade level I’m fighting apathy that art is just for whatever and doesn’t matter. I’ve sent home progress reports to be signed. But this will really help put the responsibility on the student. Thanks so much!!!

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