By this time, children and families are pretty well settled back into a school routine. We were sad to say goodbye to the more relaxed summertime when days could be slightly more spacious. The reality of timeliness and disciplined responsibility for schoolwork probably felt like a pair of stiff, new school shoes. But now they are broken in, and the fit is not so tight.
Perhaps the first progress report has already happened. My own adult memory holds this as a time of mixed anticipation. Will the report be praiseworthy? The children wonder if they have done well. Will the report contain worrisome news? Will my teacher have been pleased with me? Will my parents be proud or disappointed?
Most students probably have a pretty good idea of what the report has to say—that is, if they are old enough to have the ability and maturity to perceive themselves. In Waldorf education, long years of observing children show that a change in consciousness of self takes a huge leap after the 9th year. Of course, every child is growing and maturing constantly, and self-awareness is gradually unfolding. But until that big step comes, each child just “is” and “does” without self-awareness or self-reflection. Children are often confused that they do not meet adult expectations. This mismatch can lead to difficult moments between children, their teachers, and parents. The adults are frustrated if the report describes difficulty, and the children are bewildered. They don’t know what they did wrong. They just know that they have not pleased the adults.
This confusion is magnified in our post-Covid time. Opportunity for academic and social-emotional growth was disrupted during the pandemic. Now the children have bigger bodies, but social and emotional development has not kept pace and stays stalled at younger stages. This delay is especially treacherous for increasing numbers of children who have come into life with good—even exceptional—intelligence coupled with erratic, impetuous behavior. No one is trying to be disruptive, but it happens regularly. Then, when report time comes around, it gets noticed.
The following description of a progress report is a composite of actual teacher comments made to a number of children. A bright child with extremely advanced academics received the credit for precocious reading level as an objective fact—a 3rd-grader reading on an 8th-grade level. However, the child does not turn in book reports. Math ability was also noted as advanced, with the comment that homework was unsatisfactory because the student did not show the steps of how the answer was achieved. No acknowledgment was given to the student’s gift of such rapid mental calculation ability that they “just knew” the answer. The student could easily describe or explain subjects verbally but “balked” at writing and did not complete assignments. The fact that the thoughts come so quickly that the hand cannot keep up by writing everything down was not recognized. The child can neither make writing go faster nor make thoughts come more slowly. The final comment was that disruptive speaking out during the lessons has not improved; impulse control remains unacceptable.
What can be the response to such a report?
Parents have many opportunities here. We know our children and see their gifts and specialness. Acknowledgment and approval of what is positive is a perfect place to start.
Perhaps one might say:
“You read so well, and you do math like a champion. We are so happy that you are our child. We think your teacher cannot see inside your head to watch how fast your ideas and answers come. We can sit together and figure out how to get your good ideas written on paper so your teacher can see how much you know.”
“We know that you get really excited when you have a question or get an idea and say it out loud even if someone else is talking. That probably feels like an interruption to the teachers when they are trying to say something important. We know that it is hard to not share your ideas right away and your teacher may not understand how excited you are to share. But we can practice here at home to get better at holding your speech in your mouth longer.”
Acknowledgment, recognition of positive growth as well as challenge, and offering a pathway into the future is such a gift to give to our children as they—and we—are continuously learning to navigate life.
Now, what about a progress report for us parents and teachers? Some say life itself is a school, and we are all students. What might children ask of us if they could verbalize their hearts’ longings? For what might they wish to evaluate us?
Grown-Up Progress Report
Areas of competency:
- Seeing the talents and specialness living within each child
- Accepting who each child is without judgment, criticism, or jumping to conclusions about what is causing challenging behaviors
- Offering encouragement and understanding
- Helping the child to forge a pathway forward with clarity of needed boundaries
- Focusing on the child’s beautiful, potential self, struggling to become
How might we score in these areas? Possible responses include:
- Progress Noted
- Needs Improvement
There is much to ponder here. It is interesting to reverse roles with the children and imagine how things may look through their eyes. Luckily, this report can remain private. No matter where our self-evaluation fits with the above choices, may our progress reports always say “striving” for ourselves. It is always true for the children.
BIO: Nancy Blanning is an early childhood educator with a special interest in movement and “incarnational support” for young children. She served as a kindergarten teacher and member of the educational support staff at the Denver Waldorf School, from which she recently retired after almost forty years. Her dedicated focus now is adult teacher development and professional deepening as co-director of early childhood teacher training at Sunbridge Institute in Spring Valley, NY, and as guest faculty at other teacher training programs. Practical and compassionate support for parents is another of her passions. She and her husband are parents of four Waldorf graduates and grandparents to eight. Grandparenting is Nancy’s greatest joy, along with teaching. She writes these columns on behalf of WECAN—Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. Please visit the website at waldorfearlychildhood.org.