5 Steps Parents can take for a Successful School Year

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With all of my former colleagues heading back in for another exciting, inspirational school year, I feel it necessary to advise my fellow parents on some steps to make this year a success for their kids. Every year, both student and teacher enter the classroom on a clean slate, but it will not be long before the hazards of a “Bad School Year” become apparent (Pun Intended). Here are 5 simple guidelines to help avoid it.

  1. Stop thinking a “C” represents Failure- over the last 10-15 years, there has been a shift in the mentality of the grading system in schools. Along the way, the prolific idea of getting Straight A’s became the movement of the norm. Getting an A used to be reserved for students who went above and beyond the actual work needed to be completed. Today, however, students are receiving As just for completing the work on the average requirements- yes, AVERAGE?!  Should your child receive a B or C from this year’s teacher, do not jump to the conclusion that your child is failing, even if they received straight As the year prior. The work they did the year prior has no indication on the work being asked of them this year, nor does it have any indication on the requirements of the current teacher. The expectations of each teacher will vary, which does not mean that one teacher is better than the other. It simply means that your child will have to reach or exceed the new expectations set forth by their current teacher. Be ready to explain that receiving a B from Mr. High Expectations, is better than the A given to them by Mr. Easy. Remember that a C represents “average”- as defined, 1. the typical or normal quality, degree.  Is it really a negative to be of typical or normal quality? If you honestly believe that an average student deserves an A, then I would suggest that your standards need to be raised.
  2. Open your mind to the possibility that it may be “your child”- I have had a running joke with one of my former colleagues for over 10 years because of these situations. Her child happened to be attending the same school we worked in, and a teacher approached about a situation involving her child. In a classic parental reaction, the exact words of…”What? Oh, no, not my child!” were exhaled. Now in defense of my colleague, her child was and is a poster child of excellence, and admirable qualities, however in this instance, it was her child. The situation was handled accordingly, after retracting said words, because of the willingness of the parent to trust the teacher. Many situations are mishandled or blown out of proportion due to the fact that as a parent, you choose to side with your child without trusting the teacher or the facts in each particular case. Yes, there are cases where a teacher has developed a vendetta on a particular child or parent, but these are extremely rare and have usually developed over time (showing a pattern). Teachers are in the classroom to teach and expect the conduct of their students to respectfully allow every individual their right to an education. The goal of every teacher is to create a safe and encouraging environment for all, and if your child is disrupting this, it needs to be dealt with. Trust me, no teacher is ever excited to make a disciplinary call to any parent.  They are made as a last resort, and your support is greatly appreciated! If upon receiving such a call regarding discipline, your reaction was to state “My child already informed me of what happened….” and you then ask “What did YOU do?”, then you are part of the problem.
  3. The way you learned is not the way your child will learn- First, let’s simply acknowledge the known fact that all students do not learn the same way. Good. So what would make you think that your child must learn in the same fashion that you did? We must also acknowledge the fact that education is transforming to meet the needs of today’s students for tomorrow’s careers. We must also allow the education system to do its job and educate our children. Using Math as a prime example- simply memorizing that 2 x 2=4 is no longer good enough. Students are being asked to understand why this is so. Students are required to provide the correct answer, however, they are now being given the opportunity to learn and understand the different options that lead to the correct answers. It is similar to the change in parenting where you actually explain an answer to your child, rather than express “Because I said so!” Should your child have some homework that you do not understand, simply document this in a note to the teacher to inform them of the troubles your child had. Please do not force them to complete the assignment the way you learned, as it limits your child’s ability to expand their learning and understand the lesson at hand.
  4. Your child’s grades are not the best indicator for future success- If you have spent any time on FaceBook, you will see many parents announce and exclaim the success of their children by posting their report cards every marking period. Every parent should be proud of the work their child is doing, but the report card is not the best indicator of success. As a matter of fact, every teacher will tell you that the report card actually holds little value, other than to update a child’s progress. I had a conversation once with a mother who claimed that because I gave her child a B, I would cause her to not qualify for Harvard! Folks, if you believe that Harvard is worried about what your child received in 4th Grade, YOU are one of THOSE parents! The best indicators of your child’s success will be based upon 2 ingredients: Effort and Social Skills! The level of your child- above, average, below- is irrelevant. You must focus on the effort your child is putting forth to improve. No student is getting paid to learn, but if they were, their grade does NOT indicate they are learning. Learning is indicated by the gaining of knowledge from current levels. Thus, your focus needs to be on the effort to gain knowledge, not that your child is an A student. Second, and most importantly, your child’s social skills- or lack of them- will be a huge factor of success or failure in the future. The world is built on communication skills, and the ability to work with others. Whether in a partnership, or in a group, the jobs of tomorrow will demand that your child work well with others. Let’s be honest, even if you are extremely intelligent, you will have a hard time keeping a job if you can’t relate to others. Do your part as a parent and make sure it is……not my kid!
  5. Be Thankful for the teacher- Whether or not you agree with the policies, the grades, the discipline, or the work- just be thankful that the teacher is willing to place him or herself in front of your child every day to do their best to educate them. To think that every year will be a blessed year for your child is impossible. There will be teachers who make a lifetime impact, and unfortunately, there will be teachers who make education a nightmare (Hopefully not). Either way, the year will be a learning experience for your child and can provide them with a foundation to be successful in the job market. We will all have bosses that impact us positively and negatively just the same. Make sure to support your teacher irregardless of your personal feelings towards them. A teacher’s job is hard enough, and the last thing any teacher wants is to have issues with parents. What other career is being guided by politicians at the federal, state, and local level; Departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level; So-Called Educational Leaders; Billionaires and their Foundations; Administrators at state, local, district, and school levels; and Board of Educations? Most of whom have little to no experience actually running a classroom. Support your teachers, support your schools, and try not to be that parent! In the end, every teacher wants to help every student- no matter what you do as a parent. Trust me though, you will get a lot more from a teacher you support than from a teacher you are fighting against.

Please talk to your child every day and encourage them to simply “Try your Best!” Keep your expectations high, but also be willing to explain why you are still proud of your child’s effort even if they are not a straight A student. As a teacher, I have so many more stories of inspiration from my C students, as many A students didn’t have to work as hard. If your child is PROUD of their effort, as the parent you need to be PROUD of your child! Work together with your child’s teacher to make the most of the school year, and the results will come. Your child will never give 100% effort to learn if they know you do not support their teacher. That responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders! Best of luck to a great year. Remember that every year, every week, every day can be a fresh start to their education!

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End of the Year Message: Parent to Teacher (Please Read till the End)

To whom it concerns:

You were charged with educating my child for the last 180 days, and I have to let you know how I feel:

1. Never in my life did I ever think that my child should suffer through many nights of frustration pending from homework. I remember thinking, every time, this is just homework for fourth grade! Why is my child stressing more than the adults in his life? He is supposed to be learning; learning through engagement and intuition. He should be enjoying himself, collaborating with his friends, and exploring problems together to learn.

2. What ever happened to recess, free time, Gym, Music, and Art? To be honest, I know my child can be a “handful”, especially when he gets cooped up in a room all day. His body is growing and he is full of energy that needs to have time to expend itself. I have supported your consequences whenever my child has acted out in class, however, I do believe that some of the blame is due to the fact that he is expected to sit for hours to “learn” without expression.

3. When I say “learn”, I mean to better prepare for testing! As his teacher who sits with him everyday, learns his habits, and understands his strengths and weaknesses, why does he have to be put through such misery? We both know that he struggles with test taking. This is NOT an excuse, but rather a diagnosis. Yet, every week, there is a test. Every month, there is a benchmark test. Every year, there is the State Exam! Wouldn’t the time wasted on all of these tests be put to better use to teach and learn?

4. Speaking of teaching….Science happens to be his love, as you are well aware of. His curiosity and love of learning are a perfect match for the science field. He loved the projects that were sent home and spent hours upon hours working on them. However, Science was only covered for approximately one half of the year, as it was switched out for Social Studies lessons. Being that both Science and Social Studies are crucial to spark curiosity and understanding of learning, it seems foolish for these subjects to be covered only partially throughout the year.

5. Lastly, I believe my children go to school to learn. To learn how to comprehend while reading a book, but more importantly to develop their own opinions about the story based on what they read. To learn their basic math facts of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, but more importantly to develop the knowledge of when, how, and why they would use math in life. To learn about their town, State, National, and World History, but more importantly to understand why decisions were made, what the outcomes were, and how he can learn from them and utilize it in his life. To learn about the exploration of Science, its chemicals, and its formulas, but more importantly to understand that it has been through curiosity and asking why and how that man continues to advance and provide the ever improving quality of life we have.

With that being said, I want to let you know- AND LET ME BE CLEAR:

I understand that politics are driving education. I understand that testing is mandated by state and national politics. I understand that you are forced to implement standards on students who are not prepared for them. I understand that you did not take play time away from my child. I understand that the focus on the perceived, declining Reading and Mathematics results have forced less focus on Science and Social Studies. I understand that you have less and less input on how to teach our children. I understand that as teachers you have persevered through it all. I understand that Teachers are the backbone to my child’s education, and I definitely understand that “YOU are a POSITIVE INFLUENCE on your students!”

I sincerely say “Thank You!” and appreciate every ounce of effort you give my child! Thank you for staying late, or answering the phone at home to explain the work. Thank you for “finding” time for the students to play, experience art, hear the music, and have some fun. Thank you for teaching, not to the test, but rather by providing meaningful lessons for students to learn from. Thank you for knowing my child and challenging his curiosity with the extra science projects you gave him just for fun! and coming in early for the Science Club you formed. Thank you for passionately believing that every child is more than any data can show. Lastly,

Thank you for caring, Thank you for loving, Thank you for pushing, Thank you for demanding,

Thank you for being an inspiration to my child!

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5 Rules on Parent/Teacher Conferences

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As the time approaches for spring conferences, I thought it would be helpful to offer some advice to parents as you head in.

Time is limited to have a meaningful conversation with your child’s teacher at Parent/ Teacher Conferences, so be sure to make the most of the time you have. Here are 5 simple rules to follow that can make the difference in helping your child in Elementary and Middle School:

1. Stop focusing on the Grades: Especially in Elementary School and even Middle School, parents tend to focus way too much on whether or not Johnny is getting straight A’s. Let me be clear, grades are important, however the need to debate turning some B’s into A’s is ludicrous. Harvard will not be checking Johnny’s 5th Grade report card to determine his acceptance or rejection. The question to ask is whether or not your child is giving a great effort towards their education. It is about preparing your child for their future education: A “hard-working” C is better than a “lazy” A!

2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: You will most likely be surprised as a parent to hear what the teacher sees as both strengths and weaknesses. Seeing your child in the different light of a classroom allows the teacher to be open-minded and not be prejudiced towards certain actions. Each child can truly start with a clean slate every year, so the teacher should be able to express individually what he or she sees in your child. Celebrate and be proud of the strengths your child demonstrates, but take more notice about their weaknesses. Each child is only as strong as their weakest link. The question to ask is simply what strengths and weaknesses does the teacher see in your child. No child has every suffered low self-esteem based upon their strengths.

3. Importance of Social vs. Academic: If you are focused on grades, you will never get to the most important factor for success in life. Your child’s ability to socialize with their classmates is just as, or, I would argue, more important than their academics to be successful in life. Collaborating with partners and groups is a fact of today and tomorrow’s workplace, and those skills are developed throughout the school day, in the classroom, at lunch, and at recess. The question to ask is what does the teacher see in your child’s ability to interact with others in the school, not just with classmates, but all students, staff, etc. Some of the greatest ideas have been lost because someone never voiced them.

4. Identifying Gifted/Remedial: You may feel as if your child needs to be placed into Gifted and Talented, or needs remedial help. Should you wish to discuss the options, or requirements for either, please make sure to have some documentation. For GnT, your opinion that your child is as smart as Billy who is in GnT, is not the requirement. If your child is not receiving straights A’s on average, then please be rational. As for remedial help, be passionate about the help your child needs, but come with organized thoughts not centered on grades. Behaviors that you see at home that can be compared to what is seen at school is extremely helpful. Also understand that there is a difference between a struggling student and one who needs remedial help. The question to ask, either way, is whether or not the teacher observes your child on the same level as you do, and what steps can be put into place to 1) help your child immediately, and 2) ensure your child receives proper support if identified in observation. In either case, GnT or Remedial, documentation to support your child will go a long way.

5. Place your Pride aside: While it is great to hear your child is doing well, there will be times that you will receive information you don’t agree with or don’t want to hear. Keep an open mind about what is being said and how the situation can be rectified. The last thing a teacher wants to do is create an irate parent by making up situations. It is not a knock on your parenting abilities, just simply communicating the situation they observe to obtain the best possible solution WITH you. Also, remember that for the teacher, it is NEVER about you and parenting, it is ALWAYS about what is best for the student. The question to ask is what can I do to help solve this issue. It is a sensitive discussion that every teacher dreads having to approach, and you reaching out an olive branch of joining forces will be welcomed.

As an added bonus, never be afraid to ask you the teacher for advice on helping your child. How to help a child with Homework is something most parents want to know. You can ask for a list of questions to ask to help with Reading Comprehension, options in developing study skills and note taking, or even help with the “new ways” of solving math problems. Just don’t ask if they have extra workbooks for you to have. They spend enough of their hard-earned money on the students, and I am letting you know that the local teacher supply stores are open to the public. You can purchase most teaching materials there and get help from the sales person who is usually a teacher or former teacher themselves, or simply ask during your conference where you can go and what is recommended for your child!

Children Dying at School

I remember growing up with the knowledge that when an adult spoke, I listened. It didn’t matter if the adult was right, wrong, or respectful. It didn’t matter if I was just told something different by another adult. It would be disrespectful for me to state my opinion, or question an adult. Forget having an opinion or a side to a story if there was a problem. Should my parents be called in for an issue, I did not get a chance to explain my side, nor did my parents even care to hear one. Is this the right way? Sadly, as adults, we are preconditioned to continue to trust and listen to other adults who claim to be the experts. Sadly, as adults, we continue to ignore the voices of the little ones, the children. WHY? 

There is a hidden problem in almost every school across this great country, yet no one is talking about it. Consequences. Our focus is on the issues that the mainstream media feeds to us. Bad teachers, Common Core, Failing Schools, and Bullying are all issues being fed into our conversations and ideas about our public education system. Imagine if these are simply the aftermath of a deeper and deadlier issue. Are adults the ones to be trusted? Why aren’t we listening to what our children have to say? Placing children in harms way with consequences like restraining bags, electric shock, and scream rooms are despicable. We are trusting adults to make decisions about helping our kids with these barbaric means? When did it become acceptable for an adult to punish a child in a manner that would be unacceptable for a criminal?

Think back to your education and the most influential teachers you had. What made them special to you? Now think for a moment that your favorite  teacher on your worst day had stuffed you into a secluded “Scream Room”, or delivered shock therapy, would they still be your favorite teacher? When a child misbehaves, there is a reason for the misbehavior that must be understood and addressed for the situation to be rectified. Every day there are students who become disengaged with their education, their future. There has to be a reason behind it, and we must be willing to take the time and energy to stop and communicate this. 

Your most influential teachers are the ones who took the time and effort to listen and relate with you. Instead of handing you ineffective consequence after consequence, they were the ones who took the time to find a solution with you. Even the simple consequence of “missing recess for missing homework” can be idiotic at times. I once had a 5th grade partner teacher who sat a student out of recess for 3 months because of missing homework. Did the punishment deliver the right outcome? How did this help? Do you think the student wanted to miss recess? By simply sitting down and having a conversation, it was found that his priority after school was taking care of his siblings (laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc), not homework. After discussing options with him, the student began finishing his homework based on the guidelines that were agreed to. While he never respected the teacher (she never cared to listen), he felt empowered to know someone would listen and relate with him and put forth a better effort because of this simple offering. 

I am not saying there should be no consequences, and our children should do whatever they want. I am simply pointing out that we, as adults, should remember what it was like to be a child on our good days and our bad days. Remember that we should be using consequences only if they produce the right outcome, and never use them as punishments. Unfortunately there are cases where students are literally dying from these severe consequences, but we must also recognize that we are killing the inner spirit of the child by punishing them. Every child starts off their education by WANTING and LOVING to go to school to LEARN. The question we need to answer is “What stops a child’s passion for learning?”, or even more “Who killed the desire within the child?”

 

Flipping over the Flipped Classroom?

So the new rage in education has a label- The Flipped Classroom! There is a movement that believes that it is the perfect mix use of technology that has and will continue to transform the education of America’s students. The flipped classroom is based upon the use of technology to help deliver lessons outside of the classroom (the lesson is watched at home for homework), thus allowing students to spend class time fully focused on subject matter and the expanse of it.  No class time is wasted on the lesson, thus is fully maximized on the development of the understanding by the students. In the words of Wikipedia: Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing.

I sure hope that we are NOT all so short sighted as to believe that this is educationally transforming.  The development of the textbook was in turn the first form of the “flipped classroom”. Teachers were able to assign students the task of reading the next lesson for homework so that they may concentrate class time on developing a better understanding. Was this revolutionary? I would argue that the introduction of using textbooks as homework reading simply increased the school day hours.  It no longer limited the time to read and study to the availability of the text in the classroom, but allowed the access to reading the text to 24/7.  Students today are so very thankful for this development.

The Flipped Classroom simply takes the concept of the textbook (reading/learning 24/7), and expands it with the introduction of technology. The ability of teachers to create video and audio lessons allows them to reach students while they are outside of the classroom walls. It may be created by someone else, with the objective to better prepare the students for the activities/ discussions of the classroom. So while many in America demand longer school days, there is already a movement that is providing just that. At what cost?

If we are to truly take advantage of technology, why do we simply have students watch a lesson at home? I would argue our students are provided LESS support: Lessons are stagnant, lifeless, with no ability to “Connect”. If a student has a question or comment to make during the lesson, he or she is then required to keep their thought process for 12-16 hours until they are back in class? It is easy to say students can write down those questions and thoughts, but what about the ability to capitalize on the opportunity to inspire and empower as it happens?

To be a proponent of the Flipped Classroom, one would have to use technology in a more prevalent capacity.  Combine social media/ discussion boards with the video lessons.  Allow the students to collaborate and share ideas in real time as they are watching the lessons.  How about having a video conference with students, or even with teacher as the lessons are watched.  This will provide a platform for real, meaningful learning to happen, and provide a platform for the following days activities to be truly based on feedback from the students. Instead of simply increasing the “learning” time by extending lessons to be learned for homework, teachers can increase learning by teaching a lesson, collecting information on lesson mastery, and thus developing the next days activities around what the students need.

The flipped classroom has a place in education, as it has been around for decades.  However, it is not revolutionary, and we should not treat it as such.  The education revolution will not be based around the use of technology, but rather on what technology can provide us. We must remember that true educational transformation will come when the revolution is based upon the needs of the learner. We must get back to caring for the students, to truly inspire and empower an individual is most powerful and the results (data, testing) will take care of themselves.