As Communication Between Teachers & Parents Improves, Don’t Become ‘Big Brother’

Dear Dr. Fournier:

I am forwarding an article I recently read. The article discusses the role that electronic monitoring (e-monitoring) is playing for teachers and parents. It says that while parental involvement is always a good thing when it comes to their children’s education, it can become overbearing and make their children feel trapped. Some children are now asking for “more autonomy in school.” Do you feel that the explosion of social networking and instant updating is potentially harmful to parent- child relationships or is it a good thing? Where should parents draw the line?

Molly F.

Savannah, GA

Dear Molly:

The article you enclosed, Do schools share too much with parents? is a good example of how much has changed as Internet communication has improved and social networking sites have boomed in popularity.


Even as one who always tries to stay on top of technology advances and the potential impact they can have on the culture of education in an increasingly globalized world, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that paradigm shifts of this magnitude can take hold so quickly in this digital era we live in. When my son graduated from high school, parent teacher communication and digital monitoring of this sort was all but a fairy tale. Now, they are both commonplace and plentiful for the parents who want to use them.

With that said, it is no surprise that some of the children who are under this new digital minute to minute scrutiny feel as though they are trapped in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four where they are under the constant surveillance of Big Brother. It might be tempting for a parent to look online for a test score from that day and then with full knowledge of the outcome of the exam attempt to question their child to see if he or she will tell the truth. This sort of bait-and-switch parenting is not helpful.

Not only is the convenience of grade posting potentially damaging to parent/child relationships if it is abused, it can also slow or negate the responsibility and self-reliance a child needs to develop for life in and beyond high school. The reason for this is that it removes the onus of responsibility from the student to track his own grades as part of a strategy of empowerment and makes it something beyond their control and a source of fear. Where is the happy medium? In this situation, I believe we can have our cake and eat it too.


I have always taught students who come to me that tracking their grades is an essential thing to do. I usually use a metaphor that resonates with almost every student: New grades are deposits into your checkbook, and once a week a student should average their grades. This average is the balance in their checkbook (a.k.a. the grade you would get on your report card ID it were issued today.) It is very important to know the balance of this checkbook, because this is the currency that schools and colleges deal in. Teachers explain their grading scales and percentages at the beginning of the semester. The student records these methods and then records their grades as they come in accordance with the teachers’ scales. I expect the children I work with to know their averages in any class when asked. This takes responsibility on the student’s part in order to stay on top of their grades and their averages. If the child is in danger of not meeting their grade goal, then there is time to develop and implement a strategy to get it fixed. It also lets the child know what learning was missed, and will need to be learned before exam time. This method has worked very well over the years, and eliminated the potential for end of the year surprises or cram sessions if done properly. More importantly, it teaches the student to self-monitor what they know and always know what needs to be learned.

With the explosion of web-based solutions, parents and students have a new method available to them. I do not feel that this should replace the old method, but can be used to double check progress. Parents who opt for this form of monitoring should check on their children’s progress with their children, and together come up with strategies to meet grade goals. This should reinforce the family-student-teacher unit who are all sharing information freely in order to get to the ultimate goal, which is that the child is learning.

Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier