The Dos and Don’ts of Having Virtual Data Chats with Students and Families

By: | 10/23/2020
Categories: Data Culture, Distance Learning

The substance of student and family data chats (i.e., conversations about students’ data, including Diagnostic Results or Personalized Instruction) will stay the same in the 2020–2021 school year. Educators will still share students’ data, explain what their data means, discuss learning goals and growth, etc. What will change for many schools is how data chats are facilitated.

Before COVID-19 forced schools to move to remote teaching, teacher–student and teacher–family data chats could happen in person. However, like learning, data chats will also happen online in many cases during the 2020–2021 school year.

The point of this article is to share best practices for having data chats virtually. That said, the best advice we can give educators is this: Leverage the strategies that have been successful in your classrooms. The move to remote learning has changed many things—but it hasn’t changed the fact that you know what communication strategies work best for your students and families.

What to Do

Try to accommodate families’ schedules . . . but don’t wait too long to meet.

Figuring out times when you can speak to families might be extra difficult this school year. Family members may be working outside the home, and when they are home, they might be pulled in multiple directions. However, it’s very important to speak to both students and families as soon as possible after students complete the Diagnostic assessments and/or online lessons.

Some scheduling tips we’ve learned from educators include:

  • Create an online calendar you can share with parents that will enable them to choose the open time slot that works best for them.

  • Consider scheduling data chats before the Diagnostic.

  • Consider using a paid or free family–teacher communication program for scheduling. The nonprofit Common Sense Education® is a go-to resource when it comes to finding trustworthy apps, online programs, etc.

Keep the focus on learning, growth, and goals.

  • Give students the big picture of why you are meeting and how it will help them become stronger learners.

  • Openly discuss students’ data, but always keep conversations positive. Consider how much information to share based on the individual student. Begin conversations with students’ strengths.

  • Guide the student to identify specific, achievable goals and clear next steps.

Target your conversation to the Diagnostic.

Data chats will be different depending on when they take place during the school year. For example, how you discuss data with a student after the first Diagnostic will be different from how you’d talk to them about it after the midyear Diagnostic. In the former, you’ll focus on goals. In the latter, you’ll add the topic of growth to the conversation.

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Use different approaches for different age groups.

It’s an obvious statement, but I’ll make it anyway: The substance and structure of data chats should reflect a student’s age and maturity. For example, early elementary school students will need you to explain where the data is coming from and how it connects to what they are learning. Middle schoolers, in contrast, should be encouraged to own their data and work with you to create growth goals. Sometimes, it’s even appropriate to have older students take the lead during family data chats.

Use videoconferencing software and show your face.

It’s important that students and families see your face during data chats and that you can see theirs. It helps everyone feel like they’re “together” and connected. A Curriculum Associates’ Extraordinary Educator gave this advice about virtual meetings:

“When students and guardians can see your face explaining their learning outcomes, they are more likely to participate.”

Ensure all parties are comfortable with the software.

Do not assume families will know how to use the videoconferencing software you’ve chosen for the data chat.

  • When you send a reminder email about the data chat meeting (and you should send a reminder email), include information about the program you’ll be using. Cover the basics (i.e., where to find and access the program as well as how to log in). Try to keep it simple and concise. Like you, families are very busy.

  • Many educators have found the instructional and explainer videos they create to be very helpful for families who are new to the technology and apps students are using. When creating your own videos, don’t hesitate to cover very basic topics (e.g., how to set up an account, how to log in, and how to turn on your video function).

  • If you’ll be talking to families that primarily speak a language other than English, ask a colleague who speaks the language to join the conversation. If that’s not possible, introduce families to programs such as Google Translate™, a free, online translation service. Please note: Translation programs aren’t always 100 percent accurate, but they can help communicate the gist of the topic at hand.

You can find other tech tips educators have shared with us (including how they easily create explainer videos) in our post "How to Troubleshoot Tech, Wi-Fi Access, and Devices during Distance Learning."

What Not to Do

Do not surprise students with additional information.

If students feel like you shared things with their families you didn’t first share with them, they could feel blindsided, which, in turn, will erode the trust that’s crucial to the student–teacher relationship. You should share a student’s data with them first, regardless of whether you have a data chat with their families.

Sometimes, families will be included in student data chats so they can observe how students and teachers reflect on the data together. Teachers might even encourage older students to lead the data chats with their families. This scenario is a great way to have students own their data, work on presentation skills, and show families the value of the data and what it means to them.

Do not share student data through insecure channels.

Make sure you fully understand your district’s cybersecurity and student data protection policies before embarking on virtual data chats.

For example:

  • Refamiliarize yourself with federal laws about student data by visiting See if your school or district has an “in-house” data protection expert who can guide you.

  • Make sure you’ve read and understand your district’s various policies and requirements for protecting students’ data. Your district could have multiple policies or a single plan that encompasses everything from network security to student data and third-party vendors.

  • Make sure you understand the security risks and settings of your videoconferencing program. Does it offer password-protected meetings? Does it give educators complete control of screen sharing?

Do not fly by the seat of your pants.

No matter how well you know your student, you should never come to a data chat unprepared. Families and students will have tough questions you’ll need to be able to answer. Plus, it’s difficult to set goals with students if you don’t remember where they are and where they need support. During a data chat with families, for example, you should always:

  • Review students’ data and jot down notes beforehand. If you are using i-Ready, the Family Data Chats pack provides sentence frames for planning your conversations. If you’re new to data chats or nervous about the conversation, go ahead and create a script (e.g., “Your student’s score on the Diagnostic was     . This means     .”). You might not follow it entirely, but it’ll be there for you to refer to.

  • Move from discussing data to discussing goals to discussing how the student is doing more broadly. Keep conversations positive. Try “sandwiching” which skills a student needs to work on in between discussions of their strengths.

  • Be prepared to suggest next steps to help students improve or grow academically. Families will ask how they can help, and students will want to know what they can do to meet their goals. Both families and students might struggle to generate ideas on their own and will look to you to start the conversation.

Additional Don’ts

  • Don’t compare students to their peers. Keep the focus on each student’s individual performance and goals.

  • Don’t give students vague goals. Consider including learning goals that focus on specific domains, standards, and/or skills. Keep both short- and long-term goals in mind.

  • Don’t beat yourself up if you go off script or if a conversation with a family keeps getting derailed by family members. There is only so much that’s within your control.

The Big Takeaway

Make each data chat a collaborative experience. With a positive tone and carefully chosen words, invite families and students to become contributing members of the student’s learning support team. Keep conversations focused on the student and their growth. Foster a “we’re all in this together” attitude, and data chats will go swimmingly.

Common Sense® is a registered trademark of Common Sense Media.

Google Translate™ is a distinct brand feature of Google, LLC.

Teacher and students sitting on the floor.

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