By Joe Newman
What do you say to a parent who asks, “How involved should I get in school?”
Before talking about this question I first want to talk about a more important underlying issue. Relations between parents and teachers are at an all-time low. Parents blame teachers for their child’s poor academic performance and teachers blame parents for raising badly behaved children. And while there are certainly parents and teachers who are not like this, it is the unfortunate trend.
So before a parent can know how involved they should get in their child’s school, or what kind of involvement will be optimal, they must first build a positive and productive relationship with their child’s teacher.
First, what to do.
Assume the teacher wants the very best for your child, even if you don’t see it. Remember the saying; first seek to understand, then to be understood. Find out what the teacher is doing, what they see happening with your child in the classroom, what their concerns are, what their struggles in the classroom are, and how you might be able to mitigate any of these.
Ask them directly, “What can I do to support your work with my child?” Then do your best to do it.
Stay informed about what your child is doing in class and what they have for homework. Make sure they’re doing their homework and confirm that they’re turning it in. Set up an effective homework routine -you can find help on Homework Tips.
If you offer suggestions, offer them in the form of questions like, “Is it possible for Rachael to use manipulatives when she does her Math work? This seemed really helpful for her last year.” Or, “Are there opportunities for Dylan to have chores in the classroom? He seems to get into less mischief when he’s given responsibilities.”
Catch them being good. We love to use this with our child but it’s an equally effective tool to build a relationship with our child’s teacher. Find something, or several things, that you like about what’s happening in your child’s classroom and let them know you see it and appreciate it.
Second, what not to do.
Don’t attempt to correct or criticize a teacher until you have established a positive relationship with them. Even well intentioned advice can fall on deaf ears if you don’t understand what’s happening in the classroom.
When parents attempt to correct or criticize a teacher’s approach or method with their child it almost always goes badly. A teacher may listen politely during the conference and say they will consider, or even try, the suggestion. But when the conference is over, the chance that the teacher will actually implement the suggested change is slim. And worse the parent/teacher relationship will be worse for the experience. Why? Because in most cases the teacher has either tried this suggestion before, knows it can’t be realistically implemented, or disagrees with the approach altogether. In other words, the parent didn’t understand before they sought to be understood.
Eight years ago, when I finished my Master’s degree, the agency I worked for immediately made me a supervisor. After twelve years being the child whisperer who could turn around the most difficult children, I now had the opportunity to oversee and train twenty behavior specialists and teachers and pass on all that I knew. To my great surprise very few of these people seemed interested. After six exhausting months with only a little progress I finally realized that I needed to build relationships first, then teach. I had to appreciate the efforts and the insights of the people I wanted to teach before they would hear anything I had to say. I needed to understand before trying to be understood.
Once I began focusing on recognizing, appreciating, and articulating the efforts and insights of those around me all my cases started to quickly improve. When what people think and feel when you walk into the room shifts from, “There’s the guy who always tells me what I’m doing wrong” to “There’s the guy who really understands how hard I’m trying” amazing things start to happen.
It didn’t matter that I knew the right thing to do to turn these kids around (I did), what mattered was actually getting it done. And to actually do it required appreciating and developing positive relationships with the people who would be doing most of the work.
Studies consistently show that children whose parents are involved with their schoolwork do much better than children whose parents aren’t. Just remember that how you get involved is just as important as how much. Assume your child’s teacher wants the best for your child. Make efforts to support them. Ask questions about what’s happening and how best to support. Recognize the efforts of teachers and appreciate them. Then, get involved in school as much as you are able and in the ways that are in unity with the needs of your child’s teachers.
Joe Newman is a Behavior Consultant and the author of Raising Lions. Follow us on Instagram for Parenting Tip Tuesday and share some of your own tips with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #parentingtiptuesday
By: Lisa Regula- Meyer
The school year is in full swing now in Kent, and we’re heartily enjoying life with a second grader. Specifically, we’re enjoying this second grader and his second grade class. This year, our school is trying out a mixed 1st and 2nd grade classroom. Two teachers, two student teachers, and two grades in an extra large room (really two rooms with a collapsible wall between them that’s not used very often now). Kenny’s been thrilled about it so far, and seems to be doing well with this new set-up, in part because the first grade teacher was his teacher last year, and he really enjoyed working with her. We’re glad that he has another year in a safe place where he enjoys learning, and his official teacher for this year has a similar pedagogy and manner to his first grade teacher. His daily pattern is familiar, he’s making progress on school work, and meeting new friends.
I may not work with young kids, but I do teach, and I take my profession seriously. So much in education is bad news- rising tuition, rising student loan amounts, another assessment added to the schedule, and test prep taking more and more time away from teaching. With all of that, it’s great seeing innovation and child-centered learning still making its way into some areas. Classrooms being treated like research, following evidenced-based practices and contributing to that evidence, trusting teachers to take leadership of their own classrooms, those are the things that I like to hear happening.
In my own classrooms, I’m trying some new things, as well, like virtual presentations and some new lab activities. It’s surprising how different things feel with just a little bit of a difference; those little changes make such a big deal in overall outlook. For me, seeing changes in my syllabus come together, and seeing how other people shape their classrooms for the students (with supportive administrators, even!)
By: Susan Howard
A blog by Brandy’s wife
Heather Has Two Mommies is a black and white book put out in the 80’s, one of the first, (if not the first) books of it’s kind to help children understand that all families are different. A girl is starting her preschool and she gets upset as she tells the class she doesn’t have a Dad, she has two moms and so the story goes that each kid talks about their family. Each kid draws a picture of what their family looks like, one being the child of stepparents, one being the child of a single mother and one being adopted. It shows the transition from feeling different to being apart of the class.
The book feels a bit simplistic, but we bought it long ago to give Sophia something to refer to that reflects her family.
My oldest daughter has always been able to take care of herself. She mothers herself constantly. When I get frustrated with her misbehaving she says, “Mom, you should take away T.V. from me tonight.” Or on the rare occasion we keep her up late she puts on her own PJ’S and demands “Someone needs to put me to bed.” She is very much like my wife Brandy in that way, in charge of what she needs and not afraid to get it. “Sophia, you’re going to a real school tomorrow.” “Why are you so upset Mom?” she asks. “I am not upset, it’s just a big deal. It’s school.”
The night before her first day of kindergarten she gets to pick two books before bed and one of them was Heather Has Two Moms. I knew in that moment my Sophia was ready for big girl school.
Good luck Soph. You’ll teach them a thing o
As the end of the summer sets over the horizon in a couple of weeks, we are trying to fit in as much as possible, and apparently so is everyone else. The other day another family (with two boys of their own) met us in the Goofy parking lot of the happiest place on earth (Disneyland), a day that cost us $499 before we even started it. We spent the entire day there, leaving at 11pm, and I didn’t have my other half with me. Just a 6-year old, a 5-year old, and an almost 9-month old. Sounds crazy, and it was. Luckily my friend, the matriarch of the other family, parents her kids similar to me (always keep upbeat and excited for the kids, but maintain behavior with a stern voice), so that made it nice.
Disneyland was packed, with the wait lines of the popular rides upwards of 100 minutes (which once you do the calculation you realize is a freaking long time). With two adults we could go on most of the rides while the other adult watches the strollered ones, and if we can convince the boys to say they were seven years old, the minimum age allowed on some rides.
Besides keeping upbeat the entire day, it was important to keep the boys hydrated and fed. The drinks and snacks I smuggled in at the bottom of the stroller, buried under the extra set of clothes, warm jackets, and emergency formula, helped immensely. The security glanced at the bottom of the stroller when they were checking my diaper bag, but when they saw the sleeping infant (Good job, Dustin!) I think they just didn’t want to go there!
I had pajamas waiting back in the minivan at the end of day, which made the transfer from van to bed once we got home a snap. They were asleep before we were even out of Goofy, as I had hoped they would be, because they would need their rest for the following equally epic destination: the Orange County Fair.
This huge carnival smells like sugar from the moment you enter the front gate after paying $34 for a family of five. Since it is a once per year event, and the whole reason for going to a carnival is the food, the boys (small and big) got a pass when it came to dietary concerns. After rides and games (and hundreds of dollars worth of tickets to get on these rides and play these games) we made it out of there by 9pm, with the boys asleep within a few minutes of departure.
Both events seemed perfect for mid to late summer events, and the boys were asleep with smiles on their faces. It’s taken Papa and Daddy longer to recuperate, however. Daddy is fatigued right down to the tips of his fingers, which makes even writing this blog post on his laptop difficult. That’s why I’m ending it here.
Eighteen days and counting until school begins.
By: John Jericiau
I haven’t checked for accuracy, but I feel like we are almost smack dab in the middle of summer break. We’ve long returned from our two-week vacation in Puerto Rico, but yet still have a significant amount of time until the first day of school slams into us like a frying pan on your head. School and all of its scheduling and rushing and play dates is but a distant memory, but now you can just begin to feel the anticipation of the new school year invade your head.
I was going to work on Dylan’s numbers with him, so I better get going so he knows how to write 1 through 10 well before he enters kindergarten. For some reason he writes a 9 when he means a 6 (and vice versa), and he writes the number 8 by piling one zero on top of the other, instead of writing the figure 8 in one fall swoop. I don’t know how or why these things have happened. I just know that I was going to work on it “all summer” with him, and I’m aware that “all summer” has shortened significantly. I really wanted these boys to be riding their bikes proficiently by August. I had imagined that we’d be hiking at least every other day. After all, surely we could fit in an hour of hiking each long summer day, no?
To be fair, they are taking swim lessons almost every day without fail. And they have enjoyed a handful of days at surf camp. They’ve seen at least five movies so far this summer (just today we saw Turbo, in fact, and loved it), and we’ve hit the library more times than I can count.
To be honest, I had a goal of allowing the boys to enjoy lots of free play this summer, and I think we’ve really been successful in that respect. Many times I’ve tried to get some things accomplished in the house while they used their imagination in the back yard to play together, or their fists to fight together.
The most enjoyable thing about this particular time is the lack of rigid scheduling. I haven’t yelled, “Get out of bed!” once. In fact, I do everything I can to let them sleep in while I have some me time (well, me and an eight month old). They stay in pajamas until we decide to leave the house, and sometimes they take two baths in one day. They’re up late most nights (9 pm is the latest), and we’ve done more things as a family because of it (board games, walks for ice cream), which is fantastic.
I’m going to try hard not to let thoughts of first grade and kindergarten enter my brain yet. I want to live in the moment, and I want the boys to live in the moment also. Yes there are fewer and fewer of these moments, and the time will come when we are watching our sons walk into class once more. For right now, however, I’m not even going to watch a clock. Now that’s enjoyable.
By: Shannon Ralph
So, I’ve been
obsessing thinking a lot lately about my eldest son’s all-too-near-future foray into middle school. I’m worried about him. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Lucas, let me take a moment to describe my dear son.
Lucas is, well…he’s very much a product of his environment. Take one high-strung, work-her-ass-off, the-sky-is-always-falling lesbian, add a terminally laid-back, slacker, isn’t-that-falling-sky-a-gorgeous-shade-of-blue lesbian, throw in a couple of dysfunctional extended family members with addictive personalities, add a chubby blonde baby to the mix, and you get…Lucas!
Lucas is awesome. Really, he is an amazing kid and I adore him. But he is an enigma, of sorts. He is a math whiz, but struggles with reading and writing. He can remember the (every language BUT English) words to his entire choir repertoire, but can’t seem to remember to flush the toilet. Or change his underwear. Or bring home his homework. He gets nervous. Often. But not over the things you and I might get nervous about.
He is a sociable kid. He can stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds and sing beautifully without so much as hint of nervousness. But he freaks out if the bathroom sink drips. He struggles with anxiety. He doesn’t handle the unknown very well. He has to know what he should be doing at all times. He has to know how things will turn out. He has to know how every story ends. He has attention issues at times. He’s never been diagnosed with attention problems, but he tends to escape to his own thoughts a lot. He’s a thinker. He’s what used to be called a daydreamer. He’s not worldly like other boys his age. He’s a true innocent. Obnoxious, but innocent.
Come September, he will be thrown into a completely different world and I am worried. He has a good group of friends, so I am not so much worried about him being lonely. Or bullied. Or called names. That may happen, of course, but he has a core group of four good boys that he hangs out with. He’s not a loner.
No, I don’t harbor the “normal” parent middle school worries. My worries are irrational. Ridiculous, even.
• I worry that he will be unable to remember his locker combination and will start crying in the hallway—a turn of events that would mortify him.
• I worry that he won’t remember how to get from one classroom to the next without a kindergarten-style walk-with-your-finger-on-the-wall line of classmates.
• I am afraid that the clothes I pick out for him (because he does not care in the least about clothes and will put on whatever I hand him) will be a little too lesbian chic for 5th grade.
• I am afraid he will start speaking in lingo I don’t know and that I won’t be able to find an appropriate translator.
• I am afraid he will begin cursing and, being a less than stellar parent, I will laugh rather than react appropriately, thereby reinforcing a sailor’s mouth in my innocent little boy. And we all know that “shit” and “damn” are gateway words. Before long, my baby boy will be casually spouting the BIG ONES, and it’ll all be my fault because I reacted poorly in middle school.
• I am afraid he will not fit into any of the typical middle school cliques. He’s not truly a “geek/nerd” because he is a pretty dang social kid. He’s not really a “brainiac” because, while he is amazing at math, he can’t write a coherent sentence to save his life. He is in no way whatsoever a “jock.” He has neither the interest nor the ability to be athletic. He’s not really “preppy,” as he does not own a single piece of clothing manufactured by Hollister or Abercrombie (we are Target and Old Navy people up in here). He’s never been your typical rough-and-tumble boy. He’s just a regular kid. A good kid. I am hoping there is a group for that.
• His friends will find out that 1.) He cannot tie his shoes (seriously…he wears slip-on shoes all the time and has refused to learn to tie his shoes—though his six-year-old sister can tie hers), 2.) He still cannot ride a bike (and has no desire to learn, in part due to his anxiety), and 3.) He still sleeps with the stuffed “doggie” he’s had since birth.
• I worry that his homework is going to be beyond me. Fourth grade math is already pretty damn advanced for my tastes.
• I worry that he will stop climbing in bed with his mommas on the weekends. I love that time with him.
• I worry that girls will like him. He’s a handsome boy with gorgeous blue eyes and big dimples. He’s smart. Sociable. Kind. Gentle. He’s everything an eleven-year-old girl wants in a steady “boyfriend,” right? I am SO not ready for unworthy little hair-flipping, giggling, make-up-wearing wenches hanging on my son. See…there you go. I am not going to be good at this.
• I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the shuffle. An average kid amongst average kids. How will anyone know what an extraordinary child he is?
In the end, isn’t that what we all worry about as parents? Will the world be able to recognize the amazing potential that exists behind those radiant blue eyes? Will the world understand what a beautifully crafted, brilliantly original child we created? Will the world treat him as such?
I hope and pray.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By Brandy Black
I have been dreading these days, the final decision, the waiting and the lottery! I saw “Waiting for Superman” by myself and sat sobbing in the theatre. How could it have gotten this bad that we leave our children’s education up to chance? Private school might have been an option before the twins but now public is the logical choice and truthfully I’m a supporter of public schools. It is daunting making such impactful decisions. My wife is finally starting to catch up with all that has been weighing on me for the last 6 months. I have done my research -immersion, charter, magnets; I have finally navigated my way through the challenges, the tours, the applications and now, I wait. Wait for the day when we find out if our daughter is one of the lucky ones or if she waits patiently with a number for her fate. I envy the people who have real choices rather than chances. I lie awake at night burdened by this process until I remind myself that everything happens for a reason and things work out the way they should. I don’t think a worrier like me could get through life without understanding that. Our daughter thinks that she will make the choice. I tell her about the schools, the rules, the fun and inform her that once we “decide” she can give her final word. I’m not sure how I will finagle that if there is only one choice, but I’m prepared to cross that bridge later. It’s all about baby steps right now. Sleeping through the night is first on my list.
By Brandy Black
- Addressing issues about lesbian- or gay-headed families means that I will have to talk about sex in the classroom.
- I am uncomfortable using the words “gay” and “lesbian”.
- I don’t know what words to use when interacting with members of lesbian- and gay-headed families.
- I don’t know how to reconcile my personal beliefs with my responsibility to all the children and families in my classroom/school.
- I don’t know what resources on gay- and lesbian-headed families exist, or where to find them.
- Teachers and kids will think I am strange.
- Teachers and kids will treat me unfairly.
- My family and I will be called names.
- My family will not be included like other families in the school.
- My friends’ parents might not let their kids come over to my house to play or for a sleepover.
- Teachers and kids might think I will be lesbian or gay.
By: Wendy Rhein
I’ve been struggling with writing this all day. I have drafted more first, second, and seventh paragraphs than I care to admit and trashed them all. The truth is, my kid and many other kids I know were hurting last week and it infuriates me.
Last week I heard and endured several painful stories about how children interact and label each other. In my own life, and in the lives of no less than three friends in just seven days, I find myself thinking much too much about how kids treat those they consider different.
In one case, an older child, along for a playdate with a little one, felt the need to tell my friend’s child that not only was she adopted, but that her birth parents couldn’t take care of her and she was ‘given up’ so she would have a better life.
And then again, a young girl adopted by a single mom who sometimes joins her precocious daughter for lunch at school. Last week the mom was dismayed that children at a shared lunch room repeatedly asked her daughter why she doesn’t have a daddy, why she looks different from her mom, and told her that her “real” mom didn’t want her so she came to live here. Those are some pretty heady ideas for five-year-olds to come up with on their own.
Then there is the young teenage daughter of two wonderful dads who came home from the bus stop when she should have been on the bus heading to school. Through the tears and blood smudges, she told her stay-at-home dad about the teasing she endures daily about her “queer dads” and how on that particular day she had had enough. She said she knew better than to go to school having beaten the crap out of another girl in their neighborhood. She knew that she, not the offensive and mean-spirited girl, would be the one suspended.
And finally in my own family. This past week my first grader was studying Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the boys in his class said that all King did was make white people and black people fight. He went on to say that King was just a troublemaker.
As a child of an African American father and Caucasian mother, Nathan sometimes questions his racial identity and I have left the label, if one is necessary, to come from him and not me. I tell him he is the best of both of us, that naming his color is not as important as remembering that he is more than white, more than black. He’s his own person.
I was so angry that this little 6 or 7-year-old child in my son’s public school classroom had that kind of power to cast doubt and darkness over the meaning of Dr. King’s work that I launched into an intensely personal and political conversation with Nathan. He learned what “racist” means, that even now people who will judge him, his brother, and many others by the color of their skin and not the content of their character; and we talked about the power of words to change the way people think. I was exhausted. We drifted in and out of different elements of the conversation for hours. I tried to balance his maturity and his age, what he was capable of absorbing and not wanting to scare him or worry him. He’s a thinker, a dweller, and he likes to have a lot of information once he latches on to a topic. But he is six. Just six!
After the lights were out for the night and the last tuck in and good night kisses were shared, he asked me if I knew people who thought that white people should stay with white people and black people with black people. I told him the truth, that yes, I have known those people. He was quiet for a little while. Then he said that if they had their way, we wouldn’t be a family. Not him, not Sam, not me. And that would be awful. Thank God they don’t, I told him.
I imagine that my friends whose stories I mentioned had similar, exhausting, and draining conversations with their kids this week. And I imagine that they all kissed their children goodnight, closed the bedroom doors, and then cried quietly for a while, trying to not wake our dearly loved children in rooms nearby. Hoping and praying that we said or did the right thing. And wondering how much therapy was going to cost us a few years down the road.
What amazes me is that we nontraditional families outnumber the traditional families with 2 parents of 2 genders and biological children. The tradition is no longer the norm. And yet these old ideas about what makes a family and the need to justify how we became a family and why our family is made up of a variety of colors and genders are playground and lunch room conversations among the under 10 set.
These ideas come from somewhere closer to home than a television show or movie. Some kids seem to need to separate “like me” and “others” into separate circles, and the like me circle is increasingly shrinking for those kids. I implore their parents and grandparents to open their own minds and circles so as to not close their children’s.