Parent portal got you down?


We have a guest post on our blog today from Roxanne Turner.  Roxanne is a Board Certified Life Coach with extensive training in ADHD and executive functioning, focusing on the process of getting things done.

Ah, the parent portal!   In theory, it offers you insight into what’s going on in your student’s academic life. The portal tells you whether your student is turning in their homework, doing okay on their tests and quizzes, going to class, etc.  You have all of the information to course correct if things have gone off track. Such a useful tool and it seems so logical and pragmatic. Oh, if it was only that simple!

Instead, going through the portal often turns into an anxious, panic ridden experience. Missing assignments, a few failed tests and your mind starts racing with negative thoughts and questions. Then the chronic checking begins. It’s like somehow if you check the portal multiple times a day, things will automagically change.  Then your student comes home and boom, the inquisition begins and she slumps in her chair or goes on the defensive.  Sound familiar?

The picture I’m painting is somewhat exaggerated but my goal is to point out that the trap we often fall into as parents of being reactive and going on the attack is not effective and damaging to your relationship. With the portal, we have more information than ever before, almost in real time, regarding the progress our students are making in school.  This sets up more opportunities than ever before for misunderstandings and conflict. As a result, we need to take what we find on the portal with a grain of salt and use it as a tool.

Have I held my breath when I checked my own kid’s portal? Absolutely! With my youngest son, school has never come easy, but hard work and reading tutors helped through middle school and he was doing well.  With the transition to ninth grade and high school however, we were very aware of the challenges this might bring. We wanted to provide him with the opportunity to succeed on his own but the portal revealed quickly that things were getting out of control, especially in science. Lots of missing assignments and low quiz and test scores.  So, my husband and I started to investigate by talking to him and asking, “What’s up?”  He had given up. He didn’t understand what was going on in class as the lectures were too fast. He wasn’t taking notes and he didn’t have a book to reference. Once he fell behind, he felt he couldn’t catch up and just couldn’t see that trying at this point would make a difference. Fortunately, we caught this early and got him support; a text book and a tutor. We also had him do his homework in the kitchen to avoid procrastination. There was always someone around to check in. He slowly dug himself out of the hole.  We still weren’t sure he was going to pass by the end of the semester so we had summer school lined up and ready to go just in case. Failing and retaking a class offers a valuable life lesson and opportunity to teach your student that it’s what they do with failure that matters.

When reviewing your student’s portal, here are some ways to look for the story behind the grade.  Remember, kids do well if they can and if they are not, there are lacking or lagging skills (Dr. Ross Green).

  • When you see the grade, avoid jumping to conclusions, the grade is the symptom not the root of the problem.
  • Sometimes the portal isn’t always updated; some teachers grade faster than others.
  • Look at effort, your student may be doing the work and just struggling on tests and quizzes.
  • Look at the classes that are going well. This is a great time to receive some student perspective on the positive

As parents, we have the challenge of not letting our emotions take over.  When your student is struggling, find a way to step back and look at the situation rationally.   If you are fraught with emotion, go for a run or workout to blow off some steam before talking about it. You need to be calm and level headed so you can have a productive dialogue and problem solve. You will be doing a lot of listening and asking questions. If you’re driving everything and your student isn’t brainstorming solutions, she isn’t learning anything and it won’t stick.

If your student isn’t sure why the portal shows she’s doing so poorly, this is also a great opportunity to teach self-advocacy skills. Have him reach out to his teacher to figure out what’s going on and work together to improve the process. Depending on her confidence level, you might have her start with an e-mail. If she is comfortable talking to the teacher after class, even better.  You can always follow up with an e-mail of your own to make sure he followed through.

The parent portal is a great tool that allows you to monitor progress and catch issues early.  The key is how you engage your student with that information to make the conversation constructive and productive.  The big tip is it’s about listening, asking questions, and collaborative problem solving.  It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. When you are just as clueless about what to do as they are, laugh about it and let them know it’s not just them. Just breath and embrace the opportunity to figure things out together.