Teachers and Parents Need to Support Their Kids' Learning

03/02/2015 12:11 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work for the Japanese Ministry of Education and teach in five high schools in Hiroshima. There are countless experiences and insights from that incredible time that I've kept with me for 25 years, and one is an analogy that captures the Japanese approach to education that I witnessed there. The idea is that student learning depends on a three-legged stool--the legs being the teacher, the parent, and the student herself.

Now that I am the mother of two teenage daughters, I understand all too well how important these three supports are to children's success in school and beyond. I also understand--as any working mom or dad does--that sometimes, I feel like the wobbly leg of the stool. We rely on teachers heavily to inform us about what's going on with our children's learning. But parents and teachers need to be empowered with quality information to be partners in children's education.

As parents, we're intimately familiar with our children's dreams, passions, idiosyncrasies, and stumbling blocks. In the classroom, teachers navigate sometimes more than 40 learners at once. Each child has a different academic foundation and different strengths and needs when she walks into the classroom in September. But teachers know that each of them can and must meet a high bar of learning.

I want my daughters' teachers--and every teacher in this country-- to have training, instructional resources, a supportive school culture, and to have information they can use to personalize the learning experience for each student in that classroom. Having access to data about their students--like past academic performance, instant feedback on what they are mastering, and what they need further support on--is vital for our teachers to be successful as they work to meet our kids' needs every day.

The idea of using data in the classroom can be confusing, daunting, and even scary. Because our kids are unique, we want to be sure they are not reduced to numbers in a spreadsheet. I, too, want to be sure that my daughters are in a motivating, learning-oriented classroom that inspires curiosity and deeper learning, not one all about number-crunching. Luckily, I have had the opportunity to interact with teachers across this country, and in my own children's schools, who believe that using data is a very important part of effective teaching. They have reinforced to me that data use isn't just about numbers--it really is about a student and learning-centered classroom.

I know a wonderful teacher in Washington, DC, who sees using data as just one part of good teaching. She talks about how teachers have always used data, though maybe they didn't call it that. Quizzes, homework, observations--teacher have always used many tools to personalize student learning. Now, with new online tools, this great educator is able to give her students immediate feedback. She told me that "no one is surprised"--not her, not her students, not their parents--because throughout the year they know how they're doing and where they need to improve through great data. And because this teacher always has a clear picture of how her kids are doing academically, she is able to adjust what happens in her classroom to make sure that no one leaves her class having not mastered the material. Why should we wait until the end of the school year to know what support our kids need?

In my own district here in Minnesota, the parent-teacher conference has been transformed thanks to the district's focus on using data, which builds understanding among parents about how students are doing academically and drives student ownership of their learning. Now at my parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I sit around a table with my daughter and her teacher and talk about her progress, specific areas she needs to work on, and what each of us (as legs of that stool!) can do to help her meet her goals. My girls now talk about their learning goals and have worked with their teachers to create plans for reaching those goals by the end of the year. Because we use information to ground conversations between teachers, students, and parents, I have seen firsthand how actions around learning have changed

Every teacher and school leader needs the training, the tools, the time, and the trust to be able to use data to help students--and to help their parents better support their students learning. I have been fortunate to be part of a school that values and uses information. Doesn't every parent deserve that opportunity? I think so.

How have you seen your kids' teachers use data in the classroom to help your children? A cool app? A simple fix like stickers or blocks? A changed teacher-parent conference? Let me know in the comments.