The first day of school marks the return of students and a kick-off to the academic year. I will be spending it as I have for the past twenty plus years – visiting the schools we were involved with as they open their new buildings to the excited incoming students. However, this year is a different milestone for me as my own son is beginning High School. I am a very proud dad, a little nervous, a little excited, and optimistic about his next four years. Like I am sure all other parents, I want him to be successful in these final years of his K-12 education and prepare him for what comes next. Unlike some parents, however, I have had the opportunity to have many conversations with different educators and administrators all over the midwest about what they would recommend as the best ways to make this happen. It is not a complicated list, nor a surprising one.
First, get involved. I am not talking about volunteering for every fund raiser, chaperone event, or classroom assistant possibility. Start simple. Go to the teacher meet and greets. Make sure you know the principal. Review your student’s schedule with them and put yourself in their shoes. Attend conferences. It will make you more comfortable and establish a deeper conversation with your child about their day-to-day. Then, do participate in the other volunteer efforts when you can. You will not only be helping the schools but you will build your own network within the school.
Second, establish and model the behaviors for success. We telegraph our own attitudes to our kids. If you have a bad attitude about school so will your child. Help them think through how to organize their day and prioritize what needs to be done, both during school and before and after. Talk to them about their day and what was exciting or fun, and where the challenges were without giving them instructions. Although it is cliche, school is their job. If they understand that you deal with the same types of things metaphorically most days at work, you can have a deeper connection with how a positive attitude and can-do spirit is a much better mind set for success.
Third, respect the work. School is hard. It is one of the times my favorite expression (Work Smarter, Not Harder) doesn’t always apply. They need to put in the time it takes. Help them by creating a good homework environment with minimal distractions. Make sure they are staying on pace with longer assignments so they don’t need to cram. Discuss the difference between studying and memorizing to establish a deeper learning process. Make sure you are sure you are supporting their instructors expectations as well (see above – positive attitude!). The more you practice anything the better off you are, and learning is no exception.
Finally, realize that it is not about you. It is about them. We can do our very best to set the stage. Set high expectations. Help make sure they are prepared. Give them the resources we can. In the end, however, they need to be able to do it on their own or the success has less impact and meaning. Don’t give them the answers – you are only depriving them of the opportunity to learn it for themselves. Help them when they need it, but it is OK to take a step back and let them know “you’ve got this”!
And just to be clear, this is a list I struggle with myself. It’s not easy raising kids, but it sure is rewarding. Good luck to all the students this year, to the teachers who are working hard in a difficult job, and to the Districts everywhere that are trying to help our kids succeed too. Let’s make it a great year together.