Sunday, July 22, 2018

Confessions from a Former "Grades Driven" Helicopter Parent

Our school has a student information system (SIS) that allows parents to receive notifications via email for a variety of things: grades, missing assignments, etc. Being what I thought was a diligent parent I signed up to receive emails when an assignment was missing and weekly grade updates for both my girls when they attended CCS. My thought was "Wonderful! Now I can make sure my girls are towing the educational line."

For years, I would greet them with a "Hello! How was your day? Why did you not turn you assignment in during Science today?" If your familiar with the Seinfeld episode about the "Soup Nazi," I was definitely the "Grades Nazi." As somewhat of an overachiever myself AND an educator I would find myself at a boiling point when a "bad grade" got placed in the grade book for either of my children. Sadly, I must confess that as an educator at their school I often let my pride get in the way and was even embarrassed when they didn't try. I told you in the title this is a confessions blog!

Year after year I found my relationships with my daughters becoming more and more strained- especially with my oldest. Grades weren't the only reason but I allowed them to be a key impact point of conflict on a weekly basis. I always had high expectations academically for my girls and I wasn't afraid to let them know that; until my oldest daughter was a junior and my youngest was in ninth grade. On a day of complete exasperation I sat down with my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. It's ruining my relationship with my girls and I am stressed all the time!" At this point my husband, whose philosophy in college was "C's get degrees" took over. Just like the savvy business man he is, he immediately changed the expectations. He placed the onus of reporting on the girls. Even though he was still getting all the emails, he expected them to send their grades to him each week. It was a non-negotiable. When they sent them on Saturday or Sunday he would look at them and sometimes ask them questions about them, and he would explain his continued expectations.

Washing my hands of the daily notifications and stress was both freeing and scary! What if they quit trying? What if they didn't get into a good college? What if...? And then my oldest took the ACT and I did a little "whew," she then got into the college she wanted to go to and I did a "woohoo," and last December she graduated early from college with a degree. From an educator's view I wasn't even sure she would make it through college based on her high school grades at times. But that's when the revelation hit're only given your kids for a season! Yes it is your job to help them be the best they can be but sometimes, we as parents, sweat the small stuff in the big scheme of life.

I always tell my oldest I'm sorry because we were learning on her. There is definitely a bit of continued tension about that in her and I hope as the years go by I can overcome that and she can see me for what I was...a first time mom muddling through parenthood to the best of my ability! I think back to when I was in k-12 schooling. My parents received a progress report and then a report card. They had no idea what my grades were like except for 2 grades in a semester. My sister and I survived! In fact, I would say we are both fairly well adjusted and responsible adults.

I share all this because there are about to be some changes in the way we will be sharing grades at our school for next year. In one sense it gives the parents more information because they can be observers within the course in our learning management system (LMS) but they will no longer be able to sign up for email notifications. The notifications go to the students. The parents can download the Canvas Parent App and look anytime they want, but they won't get that email 20 minutes before the kid gets in the car like I did in the past (or so it seemed to my children everyday).

I suspect we will have some upset parents over this. I suspect we will have some parents that it won't impact at all...but from a former "Grades Driven Helicopter Parent" my prayer is that families will be able to find a system for themselves regarding grades that helps them balance their need to know with their need to be a caring parent. I wish I had done it sooner. Just because you can know information doesn't mean you always need to know. (Honestly I can't believe I even typed that, but I do mean it now.) I do know every kid is different and each student has to be treated differently to grow them into responsible adults, but looking back now as a "seasoned parent" I wish I had not spent so much time talking about grades while my kids were under my roof. Oh, and my second daughter...she's thriving in college right now....just ask her. I now know there is a fine line between accountability and responsibility that parents need to be hyper vigilant about.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Growing Cost of Edtech Integrity and Security

5 years ago our school rolled out a BYOD (bring your own device) plan for our middle school. We've muddled, learned and grown through all this and also watched and waited for a better idea to come along. Last year we did something different, our fifth grade students piloted touchscreen chrome books in the classroom that the parents still bought (but they bought through the school). As part of this rollout we placed all these Chromebooks under a monitoring and filtering system that follows them wherever they may go. This monitoring software was chump change compared to some of our budgets but it feels like the chump change costs to do what we want to do just keeps growing. And with it comes an added level of responsibility for our IT department by being the gatekeeper of usage both on and off campus.

In this next school year we are also investing in software that will make it impossible for students to take a quiz or test without doing so in a lockdown browser. We chose to do this for testing security and integrity. This is another little bit of chump change that works with the learning management system (LMS) we have adopted for this year - the LMS itself is a larger bit of chump change. We also spend additional money on a plagiarism/grammar checking software that plugs into the said LMS.

Many of these options are chosen for integrity purposes, some are for ease of use purposes and yet a few cannot even be seen as optional in today's world. One of the hardest parts of being an instructional technologist is that there never seems to be a program that does everything we want it to do for our teachers and students without investing more money in an outside plug in. Then you stand back and you realize your "per seat" cost of using technology continues to grow and you wonder what could stay, what could go? What is next? I do believe in time some of these plug ins will become standard in LMS specs but for now the budget continues to bulge with add-ons.

Add to that the needs of an elementary school which isn't quite ready for the robustness of an expensive LMS but teachers want to utilize technology in collective ways. All of a sudden you have $20-50 dollar expenses in various classes to meet various needs and everyone looking to the IT department to fill those needs.

I do appreciate edtech companies that have the free versions and the pay versions of software because more than once I've said "show me you'll use it and we will look for the money for the paid version." It is interesting to me that many of these companies charge just enough to entice teachers to use their own money for this classroom need. I can't decide if that's the companies being good to the teachers or actually exploitive of the teachers!

At the end of last year our wonderful elementary PTO gave out Amazon gift cards to our teachers to use in the classroom. I'm wondering, has the time come for teachers to receive gift cards so they can decide what tools to buy for their classroom or does that create a smorgasbord of confusion for students? I don't think it would in the elementary setting.

  • How does one best encourage teachers to take risks and try new technology tools without creating undo cost and chaos with a need to support all those things? 
  • Who decides what is necessary and what is not? 
  • Should there be a protocol for edtech tool adoption? 
  • How do you support innovators and first adopters in a school setting?
  • How do you discern if the chump change and the big change your shelling out is truly cost effective in the learning process?
  • How do you make the money spent on educational technology equitable between upper and lower schools? Do you need to?
  • What standards or goals are you supporting through the use of technology in the school?
  • What is it's ultimate purpose and do the pros outweigh the cons? 
  • Where is the tipping point? If I knew .....(kids weren't always multitasking, students weren't cheating on tests, knew how to balance- or whatever you have heard to fill in that blank) THEN I would feel more comfortable with technology. How much money do we invest into the tipping point areas?
  • How do you respond to the next cool and useful tool that hits the market midyear when your budget is flat? 
  • How much cushion should there be in a tech budget?