How many ways can you think of to support your child’s learning and success at school? If you’ve recently been to a parent-teacher or student-led conference, you probably have some ideas of where your child is thriving in life at school and where he or she may be in need of some extra support. There are many small steps you can take to guide your child forward on the path to school success.
Beyond homework and report cards, there is another very important aspect of school life – overcoming obstacles and adapting to challenges in learning. Where, when and how to get the information you need to support your child at school is part of being an advocate for your child’s learning. Another aspect to learning advocacy is to consciously build the kind of relationships that will help you create a collaborative “team” of supporters who can really make a difference in your child’s learning journey.
Patti Shales Lefkos shares a few tips in a Q&A for the Global Wise Parenting community on steps you can take to help set the stage for optimal learning and “school success”.
1. From your point of view, what encompasses “school success” during the elementary school years?
In my opinion, success in the elementary years is based almost entirely on the ability to read, as proficiency in reading opens the doors to all other areas of the curriculum. Social/emotional development is also key in the form of positive relationships with other students and teachers. Children who form a friendship with at least one or two others are more likely to enjoy the elementary years and develop higher levels of self-esteem. A healthy, fit child who gets lots of sleep will gain more from every aspect of school life. Training your child to eat a variety of healthy foods and get lots of fresh air and exercise out of school will help to equip them with tools for school success.
2. In your experience as a school leader, what are some helpful hints and/or resources for parents with children who are facing challenges at school (i.e. learning difficulties, social-emotional difficulties, etc.)?
First of all, it is crucial to set a strong foundation. Provide a quiet home atmosphere for homework and be available for assistance. Turn off the TV, limit your child’s screen time and your own. Role modeling is key. Make time for face-to-face communication so when an issue arises, an open relationship with your child has already been established.
Listen to the experts but also listen to your child and your heart. You know your child best. Talk to your child about their difficulties and listen carefully to their answers. Then make an appointment to speak to the child’s teacher. Listen to the teacher’s opinion. Are you both seeing the same challenges and behaviours? Ask what resources your school and school district offer and ask for recommendations before engaging private resources.
3. Can you offer some tips for parents wanting to cultivate a trusting and collaborative relationship with their child’s teacher? With the school community? Any recommended resources?
In striving to cultivate a trusting relationship with your child’s teacher it is essential to treat them as you would any other professional such as a doctor or dentist. When you wish to discuss your child’s progress, or if you have a concern, make an appointment first with the teacher before going to the administrator. Take a list of compliments and concerns with you. Start the discussion describing what is positive about your child’s school experience. It seems basic but remember to acknowledge the teacher’s hard work. Expensive gifts are not necessary. A heartfelt thank you goes a long way. Set aside a time each day to read notices and agenda entries sent home. Work with your child to follow up.
To establish a positive relationship with the school community get involved as much as possible. Volunteer in your child’s classroom. If daytime involvement is impossible, offer to complete some cut and paste preparations for the teacher in the evening. Join the parent committee. Attend school events such as concerts and sports events or offer to accompany your child’s class on a field trip. As in any relationship, developing trust takes time – face to face time. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People would say, “build trust by positive interactions and keeping promises, making deposits in the emotional bank account of the other person.”
4. What can you suggest to parents as the essential “must know” information about their child’s school or school system in order to empower them as they guide their child through their schooling?
On the academic side, research the foundation and philosophy of the curriculum used by the school. Is it school based, provincial, International Baccalaureate, Montessori? Detailed learning outcomes are available online for each grade level for most curriculum plans. Ask how student progress is reported. With anecdotal comments, letter grades, or a combination? A copy of a Code of Behaviour should be available, which outlines expected behaviours as well as consequences and avenues for guidance if students fail to uphold the code. There is often a short form such as three C’s, Courtesy, Consideration and Care. Take time to talk to your child about what these mean, both at school and at home, for students and for parents.
5. How do you envision parents being optimal advocates for their child’s learning?
Be informed about your child’s school and its programs. Attend curriculum evenings. Check the school website daily for updates. But the best preparation for learning happens well before school age. Establish a relationship around learning by reading with your child every day. Cuddle up with your child and a book. Interact with the book. Ask questions, make predictions, use different voices for characters. When your child attends school, make homework sessions a relaxing experience by setting aside specific times each day, perhaps shorter sessions instead of one long session, well before bedtime. Be informed about what your child is learning on a daily basis.
If learning or behaviour challenges occur, listen to your child carefully then make an appointment to speak to the teacher. Listen to what the teacher has to say. They see the child in class, you see your child at home. Work together and learn from each other for the benefit of your child.
Understand your child – academically, physically, spiritually and emotionally – by spending enormous amounts of time with him or her. Then develop a way of describing your child’s wants and needs.
About Patti Shales Lefkos
Following a rewarding 37-year carer as an elementary teacher, consultant and educational administrator in Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia, Patti studied journalism and set out to pursue adventure travel. Whether canoeing the Yukon River, backcountry skiing in BC’s Monashee Mountains, hiking in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides or trekking in Tibet and Nepal, she embraces the culture and environment of wilderness areas. She now works as a freelance journalist specializing in articles about travel, balanced lifestyles, education, outdoor pursuits and cottage life. Her articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, San Francisco Chronicle, Travelife.ca, Canadian Living Magazine, Cottage Life Magazine, Okanagan Life Magazine, Profile Kingston, and Okanagan Woman. Patti is founder of the non-profit Nepal One Day at a Time Society, established to support the education of students in poverty in the Gorkha area of Nepal. She is fundraising to build a school in Aaprik Village, Gorkha, Nepal. You can find out more and make a contribution at Nepal One Day at a Time.