The big white envelopes have arrived home. Inside is a summative report of how your child has progressed throughout the semester or term. Different schools and different curriculums have different ways of reporting this progress. Not all report cards are created equal, some reports include narratives while others give letter or number grades, and there are some which indicate a student’s progress along a continuum. The important thing to remember is that they should tell you how your child is performing on grade level expected tasks or standards and benchmarks.

Remember your younger self as a child being nervous about handing our report cards over to your parents? Now that we ARE parents, we should be pretty relaxed about the whole thing. This is not because they are our children’s reports – because let’s face it, we all feel responsible for how are children are performing at school. Rather, it is because nothing in the report should come as a surprise. At back-to-school nights which are held at the beginning of the school year, we are given a copy of the curriculum and expectations for the school year. Mid-way through the semester we have gone to the parent-teacher conferences and talked to the teachers about our child’s progress towards these expectations. We have learned about their strengths and weaknesses and what we can be doing at home to support them. Throughout the semester or term assessment results are shared with parents.

So what should you do if there is a negative surprise in the report card? The best advice I can give is to make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher. This is not something to be handled in the hallway during drop-off or pick-up; it is important and requires the full attention of everyone involved. Explain in your appointment request the reason for the appointment; this will allow the teacher to best prepare for the meeting. They can have assessment results, anecdotal notes, written papers and other resources ready so as not to waste time. Despite the fact that it is an emotionally loaded meeting it is best to remain calm, objective and non-confrontational, bear in mind that the point of the meeting is to understand the mark – not necessarily to get it changed. At the end of the meeting you should have an appreciation for how the grade came to be and what can be done to help your child in the future. It is a good idea to perhaps to plan to meet again within the ensuing term to see how things progressing.

If things do not go well in the meeting and you and your child’s teacher cannot come to a common understanding then might be time to discuss the situation with the principal. Should you have to go this route it is always best to send them a detailed email so that they will have time to get some background information prior to your meeting. This helps save time as well, keeping you from having to visit the Principal more than once. Most conflicts can be resolved at this level. It is very rare that the head of school or school director needs to get involved.

On a side note, as expatriate families who move from country to country and school to school it is a very good idea to keep copies of these reports in a safe place. You will most definitely need them when you relocate or repatriate.

Katie Rigney-Zimmermann holds an MBA in International Business and a Masters in Secondary Education. She is the Director of Admissions and Marketing at Saigon South International School. Her five children have attended international schools in three countries.