September 1, 2014 – This is back to school week here in Nova Scotia, so I’m re-pupblishing this post for parents. I’ve also added a link below to a great post by Terry Heick at edutopia.
Previously published in August 2013 – Let me start by saying that I’m not a parent, so I’m not writing this as advice so much as observation. These thoughts are based on what I’ve observed as a teacher, and shared here because I think they may be useful.
I think these are things that parents can do – and in my opinion, things they should do. They don’t cost anything and take minimal time to implement, but could make a very big difference in the success of your child in school.
Communicate with your child’s teacher and school administration. Do this frequently, not only when you suspect a problem or when you’re presence is requested by the teacher or office. Be involved. Let your child know you talk to their teacher and principal – not in a threatening way, but as part of the team of people who are helping your child move forward with their education and their life. Your child should see his teachers and school community as part of a team of which you are a member.
I’m not saying that every parent needs to be on the PTA (though there’s nothing wrong with that) but an open dialogue is very important to ensure you know how your child is doing in school and so that teachers know your expectations.
I worked in a school where the principal wanted to open the doors and make the school a more inviting place for parents. Among other efforts, he hosted “Morning Coffee Breaks.” The events were posted on the school website and sent home in monthly newsletters. Once a week for several months, he’d set aside an hour, put the coffee on, get donuts and wait for parents to arrive. These coffee break’s weren’t intended to discuss Johnny’s disruptive behaviour in class or Julie’s poor math test mark. They were a casual drop-in designed to get to know each other. As a result of these coffee break mornings, that principal drank coffee alone and the staff benefited from fresh donuts at break time on those days. In all the morning’s he hosted a coffee break only one parent dropped in. Don’t be the parent who doesn’t come by for a chat and a cup of coffee.
The point here is that your communication with the school should be frequent and not only when brought on by a problem.
Engage your child in discussion about his or her school day. From the first day of kindergarten to the last day of grade 12 parents often ask, “What did you do in school today?” Initially, the answer will contain some interesting (to the child) tidbits, but often very quickly they start to answer with an emotionless, “Nothing.” As soon as a parent accepts that as an answer they set a precedent that tells the child, “It’s ok to lie to me, and when you do I won’t question it even when I know it’s a lie.”
Instead of asking, “What did you do in school today?” use a question that can’t so easily be dismissed. Some possibilities:
- What did Mr Smith have your class doing in gym today?
- What did you create in art class this afternoon?
- What topic are you discussing in Global History this week?
Of course this means you need to know your child’s daily schedule but that’s a small effort and something most parents can access easily – if it’s not already posted on the refrigerator!
Many teachers now use social media. They Tweet or post about specific activities as they happen or shortly after or at the end of the day. If your child’s teacher does that, follow them and you’ll have even more specific information to ask about.
- Mrs Jones Tweeted at lunch time that your class had a great science lesson this morning. Will you tell me about it?
When your child knows you know and you’re interested, they will share.
Respect your child’s teacher – at least outwardly. This probably sounds like an odd suggestion but its quite simple. Don’t criticize your child’s teacher in front of your child (or when they’re in the next room, etc.). They’ll know how you feel and will understand (even at an early age) that you have little respect for their teacher. That will lead to your child not respecting his teacher and that lack of respect will lead to discipline issues. Discipline problems will get in the way of your child’s learning.
Now, I’m not saying you have to love everything your child’s teacher does. You can have whatever opinion you want of the teacher, the point is if it’s not a positive opinion, don’t let your child know. It’s very hard to learn with someone you don’t respect – or someone your parents don’t respect.
Read with your child. Read to your child. Let your child read to you. Simple.
It’s quite possible that reading is the single most important skill your child can develop today since they will be reading text on screens for the rest of their lives.
If you start reading together in early years, this will not only develop an ease with reading but will help with fluency and smoothness of reading. There are many great websites that kids can use to help with reading – but they should be used with you. Reading can, and should, be a social activity which includes discussion of ideas in the text being read (comprehension). If you have an iPad, iPod, computer or other device it may also help to have your younger child read while recording his reading. When he plays it back, he’ll hear his own mistakes and fluency (or lack of it). For a surprising number of children that’s enough to make them want to “do it over” and make it better!
Of course reading from books is great, but in this day of e-books and the like it’s not at all necessary to stick to a paper based publication. If your child is comfortable with reading e-books then by all means read those with her.
As children get older reading can, and will, take on different forms. Middle and high school students may feel more comfortable reading news articles from the newspaper (paper or online) or various news feeds. Perhaps if family members are together at breakfast someone might read an interesting article which could lead to a discussion of various issues related to the article. This will not only enhance reading but also media literacy and awareness skills. Also, just asking about a novel (assigned or personal choice) that a child is reading will continue to maintain a dialogue that has been established regarding reading.
So, those are four areas that, from my experience, I think parents could focus on without too much trouble and at no cost. Interacting with your child in these ways could make a huge difference for them.
I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback.
You might also like to read this post by Terry Heick at edutopia: