I firmly believe that “It takes a community to raise a child” and so without cooperation and communication between a school and their parent community, ‘we’ cannot fully support our children and their learning. That said, I often wonder about how we can more meaningfully engage parents in a way that they want to be engaged.
This past school year I had a ‘Parents as Partners’ section in my newsletter and I thought I’d share the monthly sections here. These aren’t really about creative engagement of parents in your school, but rather parenting suggestions to help maintain consistency of expectations both at home and at school.
Parents as Partners: Questions & Advice
I am happy to offer some advice to parents about supporting your child’s learning. However, please note that I will often answer questions with questions since I believe that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect parent’ and what works in one family or with one kid, may not work as well with others.
Children and Computer Time
Here is a question I often hear: How much computer time should my child have?
(Or how much ‘screen time’, since television time can also be a concern.)
Here are my questions to you. Again, there is no ‘right’ answer here, but discussing this as parents, and/or as a family, can help you decide what your limits and comfort zones are:
How long does your child spend on the computer or in front of the TV? Are you comfortable with that amount of time? Have you discussed this with your child?
Do you know what your child does on the computer or what he/she watches on TV?
Is the computer in a central location in the house? Is there a better place for it?
Does your child have a computer, or internet access, or TV in their room? If so, is it on when you ask them to have it off? How do you know what they are doing online? Do you ask them to show you?
Is it a good idea to have a computer or television in a child’s bedroom?
What computer games does your child play? Are these games appropriate for their age? For older kids: What social networks does your child belong to? Are you their online friends?
The younger your child is, the more important it is to determine these things for them. As your child gets older, it would be wise to allow them to negotiate these terms with you, although I firmly believe that parents should maintain the right to make the final decision. (Also see ‘Raising Digital Kids’ below.)
Often it is difficult to determine just how much homework a child has to do. “I got most of it done at school”, “We don’t have any today”, and “It isn’t due until later”, are all comments that most parents have heard at some point. Here are some questions to discuss.
Does your child have a specific location where they do their homework?
Is it done at a specific time? Are there minimum time requirements for homework?
What are the distractions to homework getting done? Can they be removed?
Do you monitor what is done for homework? Do you talk to your child about their homework? Are you available to help them? Is someone else?
If they have no homework or limited homework, are they ‘done’ or can they spend more time doing review or pre-reading to prepare them for the next day?
Is reading part of their homework or evening routine?
Is there such a thing as too much homework?
When should I speak to my child’s teachers about our homework concerns?
There are no ‘right’ answers here, but discussing these as parents, and/or as a family, can help you decide what your limits and comfort zones are.
Thank you for being our partners in your child’s education!
Students as Partners
Not just parents, students are our partners in education too!
I think we sometime forget that our children have a vested interest in their own education. Often we go to meetings and talk about kids rather than going to a meeting with kids. As students get older, it is important to include them in conversations about their learning. When you are going to a meeting with a teacher or with me, please ask yourself first, ‘Would my child benefit from being at this meeting?’ Sometimes the answer will be ‘No’, but more often than not, they would benefit from contributing to the conversation. Furthermore, it is helpful for your child to see that their parents and teachers are on the same team, working together to make their education the best that it can be.
An Engaged Parent
Often we can get trapped in a routine where our only conversation with our children is ‘What did you do in school today?’
When my children were younger, I stopped asking them that, and started asking them two other questions:
1. ‘Who did you help today’– A question that shows that I value generosity and kindness. I accepted ‘No-one’ as an answer, but that answer decreased over time.
2. ‘What was your favourite part of the day?’ – A question that gave me far more to talk meaningfully to them about than what I got when I asked ‘what they did’.
It doesn’t matter what you ask your child about their day, what matters is that you ask, and that you show a genuine interest in what they say. In my years as an educator I’ve learned that students both want and need to be heard, and students who have parents that they talk to, openly and regularly, tend to be much better equipped to be successful in the future.
Childhood involves making mistakes. What makes us better, wiser, adults is what we learn and remember after making mistakes, so that we do not make them again. Too often a child will be quick to say “I’m sorry”, without really thinking about what they did, or why they should be sorry, other than the fact that they know they will be in more trouble if they did not say it.
There are actually 3 parts to an apology and when we expect all three parts from our children, then they are more likely to think twice before making a poor choice for a second time. The three parts of an apology are:
1. Saying “Sorry”.
2. Saying what they are sorry for.
3. Making a commitment to do something else, better, next time.
1. I’m sorry
2. I should not have hit you even though you made me angry.
3. The next time that you say something mean I will tell you that it hurt my feelings and I might even tell a teacher, but I won’t hit you.
In an incident like this I would also want the person who said something mean to apologize. However, often the person who hits or retaliates thinks that the other person started it so their behavior is justified. Here at school we try to show both children that their behaviors contributed to the problem and yet it isn’t about blame, it is about admitting their own contribution and thinking about how they can make things better next time.
When your child says, “Sorry”, does he/she mean it? Are you focused on punishing the behavior or having your child learn from their mistakes?
There are many websites that will read stories for you and your child, which is very helpful for families that do not speak English as their first language at home. The best resource that you have is YOU! Read to your child (in any language) and read with them, or at the same time as them. Show them that you love reading!
Report card time can be both exciting and scary for a child. We all want our children to be the best that they can be. As tempting as it is to focus on the letter grades on the last page of the report, please take the time to read the comments (translating them to your language if necessary). Comments can provide you, your child, tutors & other teachers, and future institutions with concrete and specific information about your child’s progress.
Your child’s teachers have taken time to carefully analyze what your child is able to do, and provided details about the specific things that he or she are working on – in every subject. This snapshot is a wealth of data about where your child is right now, and what teachers are working on to help your child be more successful. Talk to your child about their report card comments, and also about their work habits too if those need improving or commending.
Spend some time finding out what your child likes and dislikes about their report cards and ask them what they are proud of, and what they would like to improve? We learn from our mistakes and if we come to school knowing everything then there really is no purpose for school. In the end, it is our hope that every child leaves school with a love for learning and so report cards should be an opportunity to seek new opportunities to learn.
When seeking improvements from your child, set learning targets rather than letter grade targets. Ask your child what skills, such as proofreading, note taking, and editing, that they can work on and help them determine a schedule or plan to meet their goals to improve. As always, continue to show an interest in what your child does at school and they will be far more likely to find future success than if they are punished or rewarded for letter grades.
Photosynthesis and Learning
Students learn that plants make sugars using the energy of the sun. A byproduct of this process, called photosynthesis, is oxygen but the goal of the process is to produce food, not oxygen. In a similar way, marks are the byproduct, and not the goal of learning. We all want our children to be successful students but sometimes our approach to this is not an approach that successfully motivates our children. Asking a child about how much they liked a project and asking them questions like, “If you could change one thing to make this better, what would you have done?” will go a lot further to improve their future success than just worrying about the marks they get, or rewarding or punishing them based on their marks. We all want our children to do well and get good marks, but let us please remember to promote a love of learning (the goal) not marks (the byproduct), and we will be sure to see more positive results from our children. (post link)
Giving Children Choice
We make a lot of decisions for our children. This is a good thing, since children do not always make the best choices for themselves. But often we don’t give children enough choices when they are older, or we give them too many choices when they are younger. Here are some strategies for giving students choices. What you have to ask yourself is, “Am I giving my child good choices?”, “Am I giving my child enough choices?”, and “Are the choices I give them legitimate?”
Here are some examples to help guide your answers to the above questions.
“Am I giving my child good choices?”
A bad choice: “Do you want to go and brush your teeth?” ~ What if they say no? A good choice: “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after you put on your pajamas?” ~This is called an embedded command as brushing teeth is not a option, when this is done is where the choice comes in.
“Am I giving my child enough choices?”
After school, are there times when your child can decide what they want to do, or is all their time structured? Do your children (sometimes) have a say in where you will go out for dinner? Do you ask them for their opinion when shopping?
“Are the choices I give them legitimate?”
Sometimes we offer ‘no win’ choices to our children: “Come here right now or else you are in big trouble” ~ Either way they are in trouble!
When dealing with a tough situation (with older students) here is a simple strategy: Either give them 3 options, not 2, as this makes the decision easier for them, or you can make the choice open-ended, (“When are you going to get your homework done this weekend?). Then, make sure they follow through with which choice they make, even if it isn’t your ideal choice!
If we want our children to feel empowered and that they have some control over their own lives, then it is important that when we give them choices, we actually allow those choices to happen!
Raising Digital Kids
The ICD (International Club of Dalian) invited me to run a presentation titled, “Education in the Digital Age: A Reorientation for Parents”. The intentions of this presentation/workshop were to:
• Examine children’s use of technology.
• Increase awareness of the potential challenges around technology use.
• Learn practical, proactive parenting strategies to maintain connections with children using the media they are using.
• Learn how to guide children in appropriate and safe interactions on the Internet.
• Find support and resources to better understand these issues.
Here is the web-page ‘hand-out‘ with many questions that can promote conversations for your family to help guide your understanding of what guidelines and expectations your family should have when thinking about students and their digital (screen) time. (post link)
Please contribute your thoughts and feedback. Also, I’d love some ideas for new things to share with my parents to help them be our partners in their child’s education.