Teacher stress is high. And while children running down the hall, new curriculum, and observations are all triggers for stress, there is one that can be equally stressful… the parent at the end of the day, who asks: “Was it a good day? Or a bad day?” while their child is standing there looking up for the answer. This is complicated – perhaps on one hand this child may have solved a difficult puzzle or helped another child who was sad, but then, at the end of the day, they ran ahead of the whole class and almost ran out the door and you had to chase him – so what do you say? You really don’t have the time or energy to get into the chase right now. You also can’t run down everything that went well. But here they are asking, so you say something vague or not helpful, "Not so good! We’re working on staying with the class.” or you don’t even want to start this conversation, so you might just say, “We had an exciting day, that’s for sure”.
You walk away feeling like you were not really authentic or helpful. You wonder if you either are upsetting them or maybe misleading them that things are fine when they are not. Saying something vague or judgemental such as any of these end of day assessments below can leave parents actually feeling more unsure, and without any real clarity on what’s happening or what to do.
“He wasn’t himself.”
“She had a much better day!”
“We are working on being a better listener.”
“She was a good friend today”
While some of these are negative and some are positive, NONE really give parents the information they need to reinforce their child or to help. This leaves them feeling anxious.
And their anxiety is not helpful. It can lead to more stress in the child and impact their relationship with you. The opposite of anxiety is trust. And your hope is to build a trusting relationship with parents. But we often find ourselves in this trap with parents, despite our best intentions.
Often the parent may even be asking because there is some type of reward system associated with it. And if it's a good day, they do get the treat. If it's a bad day, they don’t. And in this case, we all know that this response may or may not accurately reflect all that occurred. And it certainly is not linked to a specific behavior, which means the reward is not going to be effective. In fact, some children are so tied up with this system, that the idea of you telling their parent anything can create stress at school, making behaviors worse rather than better.
Sometimes parents are actually trying to assess a specific challenge, and they simply want to know about progress. For example, their child has not been participating, they are worried, and they wonder if it's getting better. So they say, “How was Maya today?” and your response might be “Great!” because she seemed happy. But it is not likely to truly assess Maya’s progress.
And often teachers just give in to the request with some version of good day or bad day, “He had a hard day.” “Today was better.” “We are working on being respectful.” And none of these actually help the parent or the child. When we sum up a whole day with a negative judgment, there are negative effects on the child and their progress. Because in order to grow and learn, children need a ratio of 5 positive forms of feedback to 1 constructive form of feedback. A ratio of 1 negative to 1 positive leads to despair and increasing challenging behaviors.
It turns out that even positive feedback is not all equally helpful. At Mariposa Education we teach parents and educators specific ways to offer feedback that is more likely to reinforce effort, as well as build persistence.
Even if you know this, when that parent is looking at you with, “How did it go today?” or “I hope Annie was a better listener. We talked about it.” and they expect an answer, we have a free package to help. In order to understand why these short assessments are not helpful, and one thing you can do instead, we have a video on The Good Day/Bad Day Trap. And to help your parents get on the same page, we have a sample email for parents with a link to a video for parents as well. The sign up to watch the video and receive the free package is on our website, https://www.mariposaeducation.org/for-educators