You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

7. Go to the Source

  • First we look at what great teachers do. They personalize their approach to each student. This takes judgment, flexibility, and creativity. They keep students involved, curious, and excited. They know that relationships are key and work on them. They know that confidence in one subject doesn’t generalize to all subjects. High and appropriate expectations are important. They make sure that all students know what the class intends to accomplish and they help students become independent thinkers. Ideally, students will work autonomously and use the teacher as a resource as necessary.
  • The next focus is on homework, which seems to be a mixed bag in terms of benefits. The trend is towards less and even no homework in some elementary schools. These schools often encourage parents to make sure that students read and have parents read to them, play outside, eat as a family, and get a good night’s sleep every day. Parents should communicate with teachers regarding their child’s abilities and issues to help the teacher know their child better. There are also a number of tips for dealing with homework. My favorite is doing your own homework such as paying bills, reading the newspaper, or some other kind of research while children do their homework.

8. Build the Relationship

  • Usually parent involvement is limited to report cards and two or three teacher meetings and family nights each year. Innovative schools use a variety of online resources to give parents more information and access. Start with a look at the district and school web pages. There are also a number of ways to increase your involvement with your kids’ teachers and the broader school community. Many parents volunteer to help out in school and give presentations to classes. You can read to a class, be a class parent, and volunteer to be a tutor. Some parents facilitate group projects or contests after school.
  • A classroom visit should help you see if it feels like a family where students help each other and teachers are sensitive to student needs. The school PTA is usually a good place to increase your involvement and access to the school’s operation. Ken includes the National PTA standards. Check to see if your PTA supports them. As a PTA member, you will be able to see how much the school supports parent involvement. If you want to go further consider joining local, state, or national advocacy organizations. A search for education reform advocacy organizations will introduce you to many. Some engage in civil disobedience by promoting opting out of standardized testing, which tends to erode enthusiasm for learning.

9. Tackle the Problem

  • Parents have a right to expect a working relationship with their children’s school and the staff. While you don’t want to be overprotective, there are times when you need to take action. If you have a concern be sure to have an extended talk with your child. The next step is to set up a meeting with the child’s teacher. Be open to the teacher’s take and try to work together to make things better.
  • If that doesn’t work the principal is your next stop. This person may be familiar with similar problems. Provide your evidence and your desired outcome. Don’t hesitate to put your comments in writing. For some issues like those related to special education, there are advocacy groups that can help. You also can hire a lawyer if you can afford it and you think your case is strong. This person can advise on how to approach the school, the superintendent, or the board of education.
  • Ken offers advice for helping students deal with and reduce stress. Parents and schools should consider his advice. There is also advice on how to recognize and deal with bullying, even if your child is the bully. The last ten pages deal with what to do if the school suggests that your child has ADHD and should be medicated. This issue impacts more students and parents every year and Sir Ken has some real expertise here.
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