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Addressing academic misconduct in effective and respectful parent-teacher conversations are crucial for the academic success of students and for upholding academic integrity. And while communication between caregivers and educators should always center on student learning outcomes, when discussing a sensitive topic like misconduct, it becomes even more important to approach the conversation with empathy, respect, and a shared goal of helping the student grow. 

Research has shown that parental involvement in a child's education is consistently found to be positively associated with a child's academic performance (Hara & Burke, 1998; Hill & Craft, 2003; Marcon, 1999; Stevenson & Baker, 1987). The importance of this collaboration is especially notable when cases of academic misconduct arise because—if handled constructively—these challenging conversations can recalibrate a student’s trajectory in positive and meaningful ways.  

In this blog post, we’ll set the stage for discourse with tips on how to create a collaborative environment and utilize student data insights meaningfully. Then, we’ll dive into specific examples of dialogue and offer ideas on how to best approach the topic of academic misconduct with parents. 

What is academic misconduct?

To understand academic misconduct and how to approach a conversation about it, it’s helpful to first define academic integrity. 

Academic integrity, as defined by the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), is a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. From these values flow principles of behavior that enable academic communities to translate ideals into action. 

Academic integrity is critical to learning, as well as fostering the positive reputations of individuals and institutions. It can also be a notable indicator of future workplace behavior. According to Guerrero-Dib, Portales, and Heredia-Escorza: “Academic integrity is much more than avoiding dishonest practices such as copying during exams, plagiarizing or contract cheating; it implies an engagement with learning and work which is well done, complete, and focused on a good purpose—learning” (2020). 

Academic misconduct, then, is a phrase that encompasses the opposite of the above: activities that shortcut learning, potentially tarnishing reputations or putting future opportunities at risk. Trends in misconduct may include: contract cheating, word spinners, online test banks, and even the inappropriate use of AI-writing tools. And while there is always a context for why a student may opt for a shortcut solution, the actions taken by educators and parents following suspected misconduct are essential in helping students refocus on the end goal: learning.  

The conversations amongst students, parents, and teachers on academic misconduct are central to building a community understanding of the value of academic integrity. The first step in creating a culture of academic integrity is ensuring that everyone–students, families, fellow teachers, administrators–align on their definition of academic integrity. From there, a collaborative environment can flourish and include all stakeholders on the learning journey.  

Learn more about emerging trends in academic integrity

How do you create a collaborative environment to discuss academic misconduct?

It is essential to build a strong foundation of trust and collaboration between parents and teachers, as parents need to feel respected as partners in their child's education. A collaborative environment is one where the traditions, language, and cultural differences of a family are honored and acknowledged, while also maintaining the expectations of the program.   

Ideally, the exchange between parents and teachers covering suspected misconduct is not the first communication between parties. In most cases, the instructor has already reached out to the caregivers at the start of academic term to convey important information (like the academic integrity policy) and to establish the connection between school and home. 

Once communication is established, instructors can then prioritize these strategies to strengthen parent-teacher collaboration: 

  • Maintain open lines of communication
  • Prioritize and share positive feedback
  • Share expectations

Let’s look at each of these types of parent-teacher collaboration in detail:

Maintain open lines of communication

Initiate regular communication channels with parents, such as emails, phone calls, or in-person meetings, to keep them informed about their child's progress. This proactive approach demonstrates a commitment to their child's education.

Prioritize and share positive feedback

Encourage open dialogue by sharing positive feedback with parents whenever possible. By recognizing and acknowledging students' achievements, strengths, and efforts, parents see that teachers genuinely care about their child's growth and success. This practice can also help to soften difficult feedback when/if that needs to be shared because a parent already knows that the teacher sees the strengths and potential of their child.

Share expectations

Clearly communicate expectations regarding academic integrity to both students and parents. This proactive step helps prevent academic misconduct and sets a shared standard for all stakeholders. When an educator establishes a culture of academic integrity, it’s clear from the start of the term how students can achieve success, the appropriate tools and resources that are available for them to use, and the ramifications of misconduct.

From a collaborative environment comes open conversations amongst stakeholders, leaving room for key documentation on a student’s progress and when applicable, insights on potential misconduct.  

What is the value of student data insights in academic misconduct?

For educators, student data insights are valuable because they can inform meaningful curricular changes, purposeful exam design, and thoughtful student interventions, all of which ultimately influence student learning outcomes. By incorporating student data insights into parent-teacher conversations, educators can take this essential information and provide an objective foundation for discussions, including potentially difficult discussions about academic misconduct. 

A data-driven approach is a great foundation for a conversation and helps parents understand the big picture: in regular check-ins, data insights illustrate a student’s academic progress, while in situations of misconduct, data can demonstrate the severity of the issue while allowing the parents to focus on potential areas for improvement.

Some ways to integrate student data insights are:

  • Assessments and grading: Share specific assessment results and grading records that highlight the instances of misunderstanding or academic misconduct. Present this information objectively, without judgment, and explain the impact it may have on the student's learning and future opportunities. Turnitin Originality, for example, not only offers metadata on the authoring and editing process of a student’s submission, but it can also provide AI writing detection capabilities.  
  • Attendance and behavior records: If academic misconduct is part of a larger pattern of negative behavior, consider including attendance and behavior records to provide a holistic view of the student's conduct. This enables parents to understand the broader context and work collaboratively to address underlying issues.
  • Individual growth analysis: Use individual student growth data to highlight areas where the student has made progress and areas that require improvement. Turnitin Feedback Studio houses all of a student’s assessments over time, which can prove to be a valuable tool when seeking to pinpoint areas of concern or map areas of potential growth. Instructors can frame the discussion around opportunities for improvement rather than focusing solely on the misconduct itself. This approach encourages parents to join forces in supporting their child's academic development.

Emerging from a collaborative conversation with parents that features data and insights, comes an opportunity to partner on next steps. Parental involvement can be challenging, but it is integral—especially in younger grade levels—in supporting the growth and development of a student’s academic integrity and behavior. 

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What do you say in an academic misconduct meeting?

Most teachers, prior to reaching out to families, will first take a step back and ascertain: is the situation at hand a case of deliberate misconduct or the product of a skill deficit? If the latter, then revising the curriculum, working directly with the student on areas of growth, and creating an action plan to review what the student does and does not understand, are the best next steps.

If the former, then the educator may choose to set up a meeting with the student, their family, or both in order to establish what action needs to be taken. If speaking with the student first, Turnitin offers these discussion starters for tough conversations. When addressing academic misconduct in a meeting with parents, it is crucial for teachers to approach the dialogue with empathy, professionalism, and a focus on finding solutions. (It’s possible that students and/or parents may become defensive or tensions may escalate in the conversation, so it’s imperative to stay calm and refocus the conversation on the documentation and action plan.)  

With all of the information available to educators online, here are some curated key points to remember and examples of how to integrate them into the conversation: 

  1. Start the meeting by acknowledging the importance of the discussion. It is meaningful to express concern for the student's overall well-being and academic success, emphasizing that the purpose of the meeting is to work together to address the issue constructively. Example: "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. I appreciate your commitment to your child’s education, and I know that by working together, we can find the best solutions to support their growth."
  2. Share specific instances of academic misconduct backed by evidence, such as assessment results, grading records, or documented incidents. Approach the discussion objectively and avoid passing judgment or making accusations. Focus on the facts while explaining the impact of academic misconduct on the student's learning. Example: "We have observed a few instances of misconduct. Here are some specific examples, including assessments and corresponding consequences. As you know, academic misconduct undermines learning and can have long-term consequences on a student’s academic growth and integrity."
  3. Encourage parental involvement: Highlight the importance of parental involvement in addressing the issue and promoting a positive change in the student's behavior. Emphasize that you value their insights and support in finding solutions together. Encourage parents to share their perspectives, concerns, and any relevant information that may help in understanding and addressing the issue effectively. Example: "I believe that addressing academic misconduct requires a collaborative effort. Your insights and involvement in finding solutions are crucial. Do you have any concerns or information that might help us understand the underlying factors? Our goal here is to work together towards a positive change."
  4. Explain the consequences of academic misconduct, both academically and in terms of character development. If your school has an honor code or misconduct escalation policy in its handbook, it can be helpful to have those resources available. Discuss how integrity and ethical behavior are essential for personal growth, building trust, and preparing students for future challenges. Share the potential long-term consequences that can arise from repeated misconduct, such as a tarnished reputation or limited opportunities. Example: "Academic misconduct not only undermines the integrity of the learning process but also affects personal growth. It is crucial for everyone at our school to understand the importance of honesty, responsibility, and ethical behavior. By addressing this issue together, we can help your child learn and build a strong foundation for their future success."
  5. Collaborate on an action plan: Work cooperatively with parents to develop an action plan that outlines strategies and interventions to address the academic misconduct. Involve them in setting realistic goals and identifying steps that can be taken to support their child's growth and improvement. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both parents and educators in implementing and monitoring the action plan. Example: "Let's work together to develop an action plan that will help your child overcome this challenge. We can set specific goals and establish strategies to address academic misconduct effectively. I would appreciate your input and support in implementing the plan and monitoring their progress. Together, we can guide them towards a positive change."

Remember, maintaining open lines of communication, showing empathy, and focusing on collaboration are key to establishing a productive partnership with parents when addressing academic misconduct.

In conclusion: How to have parent-teacher conversations on academic misconduct

Parent-teacher conversations about academic misconduct can be challenging, but are essential in the development of students. And while this discourse may feel overwhelming or negative at times, it’s important for educators and parents to remember that the steps taken are with the student’s well-being and academic success in mind, with the end goal of helping them to authentically learn. 

In an open letter “To the Parents of Students Accused of Academic Misconduct,” Courtney Cullen writes: “Will you let me do my job? Will you let me help your child learn how to learn and grow? Will you allow your child to be the adult they are purported to be, and take responsibility for their actions?”

By establishing a collaborative environment, incorporating student data insights, and seeking parental involvement, teachers can approach these conversations respectfully and effectively. Because the true objective is to support the student's growth, foster a sense of accountability, and strengthen the parent-teacher partnership for the benefit of the child's education.

Learn more about Turnitin Feedback Studio