By Joseph Tweed
From Target to Abercrombie, back-to-school ads flooded the airways as families around the world gathered to enjoy the Olympic Games.
As I watched, I was quickly reminded that the start of a new school year was just around the corner. Whether shopping for that perfect backpack or thinking about what this school year may bring, these next few weeks are often filled with anxiety and excitement for parents and students alike.
For parents, the end of summer and the start of the school year can bring mixed emotions. Less time with children, a busier schedule, and the often-dreaded challenge of getting the whole family back into the routine of school. Most parents I speak with want the school year to go well from day one, but know that the challenges mentioned above, coupled with building a new relationship with their child’s teacher, makes this hill appear steep.
Teachers and school administrators love this time of year as we look forward to opening our doors to the children we serve. Over the years, I have comprised a list of suggestions that I and my colleagues have shared with countless parents in an effort to build a strong and lasting relationship with each one and help families begin the school year on a positive note.
For parents of students in Preschool through Grade 5:
Start the routine early. At a young age, many students experience anxiety about the first day of school. Whether they are entering a new school for the first time, changing divisions, or just entering a new classroom with a new teacher and some new students; the unknown can be scary. To alleviate some of this, practice the routine of going to bed at a normal time, waking up, and traveling to school in August once or twice. If you are able, stop by school while the teachers are returning. Take the walk to the new classroom and have your child introduce him or herself to the teacher. These small steps will make a world of difference on that first official school day.
Commit to being a partner. Believe it or not, teachers love partners in parents. As a parent, introduce yourself to the teacher early in the school year or even just before it starts. A short email introduction can be fine, letting the teacher know that you are excited to work together. This is also a time to inform the teacher about anything unique with your child. Starting the conversation early will help form a lasting partnership that will serve to enrich your child’s educational experience.
To parents of students in Grades 6-8:
Build a bridge. The tween years can be challenging as middle school students want to push boundaries and explore all that the world has to offer. With the independence students want at this age, it is difficult as parents to begin to let go. Middle school students will make some mistakes along the way, but the lessons they learn from each one can set them up for tremendous success later. Teachers know this.
As parents, build a bridge with your child’s teacher that helps you work together to navigate the emotional waters that lie ahead. Let the teacher know what you see at home and be open to hearing the same from the teacher. If tweens know that you and the teacher are on the “same page” and are committed to helping them mature and gain some independence, you will see success. At this age, it really does “take a village” and this connectedness will lead to academic and emotional growth.
Lastly, for much of my educational career I have served high school students and parents as a college counselor, dean of students, and assistant principal. In these roles, I have encountered every type of helicopter parent from the Apache-attach style to the Medical fix-it style.
My advice to parents of high school students at the start of the year:
Take a step back. High school is a time for students to take ownership over their learning and be self-advocates. This is an essential skill that these young leaders need if we are to set each one up for success both in high school and in college.
I know it is hard to step back and support children from the sidelines, but the lessons they learn from success and failure will leave a lasting impact. We want them to know we are there, but we want them to feel like they earned the victory themselves. Even when a challenge or obstacle presents itself and your instinct is to swoop in and fix it, you need to trust that the partnership both you and your child have built with the teacher will help them find their way.
High school is a terrific time for parents, students, and teachers to work together to help young adults prepare today to be leaders of tomorrow. Encourage your child to lead the discussion that is their education. Have them lead the parent/student/teacher conference. Help them build a relationship that makes it easy to ask for help when it is needed.
Show these young adults that working smarter is as essential as working harder and that their teachers are their biggest ally in achieving success in the classroom and out. If this is done well, your graduating senior will be prepared to navigate the next four years of their education in the college or university of their choice.
Remember, whether your child is 3, 13 or 18, all want to succeed in school. Children want to make their parents proud and teachers want children to develop a love for learning that will last a lifetime. In these coming days, countless classroom doors will reopen, welcoming in the next surgeon, lawyer, teacher, astronaut, engineer and the list goes on. Work together with your child and teacher to make this year one of tremendous learning and growth.
Joseph Tweed is director of admissions and financial aid, a college counselor, and head boys lacrosse coach at Ranney School in Tinton Falls.