August 13, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- The first lesson of the 2014-2015 school year is here and it's not for those who will be sitting in classrooms come Sept. 2.
District teachers Chris Welling and Kim Coffey shared tips this week on how parents can help their students succeed all year long. And while Welling is a third grade teacher at Harvey Swanson Elementary and Coffey teaches fifth grade at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School, their advice often overlaps and can apply to multiple grade levels.
Most important for a child's success in school is to have a parent who is involved, encouraging and present.
"Kids that are successful, have parents involved in their education," said Coffey. "Not doing their homework for them, but encouraging them to try and letting them know it's ok to fail. Very successful kids have parents who say school is first, not soccer or gymnastics or anything else— it's school. Parents that come to conferences, volunteer if they can, are just involved in their kids' life, even if they work, will help children succeed."
While common core and rigorous testing are struggles all students and districts contend with, Welling said it is important for parents to ask their children not just about grades and scores, but about what they are learning. What went well in the lessons and what didn't go well. Don't let the conversation end when a child says something was boring, or they didn't understand or couldn't do it. Instead, said Welling, parents should ask what made it a struggle.
"Peel back the layers," she said. "Sometimes kids reveal more at home. Value what your kids have to say. They can discuss which part was hard or easy, so you can build on strengths and integrate the things that are tougher instead of focusing on what they can't do."
If a subject is difficult for a student, it is important to ask a child what their plan is to help tackle the subject. Don't assume they know how to be responsible, or even what it means to be responsible— as it can change depending on the situation.
Organization is part of responsibility and a practical component of student success. The district has tools for parents and students for organization, including the parent portal, which allows parents to check grades and see what assignments have been turned in and which haven't. Agenda books for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades are required to be signed by parents nightly if their student is in Coffey's class and children are rewarded when they return the books signed. Teachers also put assignments on "edmodo" so parents can print off forgotten assignments at home.
"Set up a routine when the kids get home, ask how their day went, and have one place to do homework, and a set time," said Coffey. "They can have a snack and then homework or make homework time right after dinner, so kids know what to expect."
Reading is the foundation on which all other learning is built, and both Welling and Coffey strongly encourage parents to read to and with their children.
"It sounds so cliche, but it's so important to make reading and writing present every day," said Welling. "Kids value what their parents value. Parents should read alongside their kids, even if they're not avid readers, whether it's picking a book with your child and reading to them, or independent family reading night, where everyone reads their own book."
Again, asking questions is important, so talk to your children about what they are reading, to make sure they are comprehending and making inferences. Show enthusiasm, both for what you are reading, and what your child is reading, Welling adds. Help them see themselves as writers by getting them to jot down stories, or keep journals of artifacts to feed story ideas or remembrance.
"Read to your child— even in fifth and sixth grades, a lot of parents still read to their kids," said Coffey. "Read the same book your child is reading for school so you can discuss it and be involved that way. We do read-alouds at school every day and kids love it. They love to be read to."
She also suggests that if a child is reading a novel as an assignment, that a parent read the book as well, so they can discuss it and the parent can help the student if necessary.
Showing enthusiasm for learning in all its forms is crucial, too. Get out of the mindset that learning takes place only in the classroom, said Welling, and show enthusiasm for a child's interests, whether it's Legos, YouTube or something they saw on tv. Parents should encourage their children in the pursuit of education, which may take them to a library, or a business or somewhere else to garner information on a subject, helping kids with critical thinking and inquiry.
"If they do those things at home, it becomes the norm in the classroom," said Welling, adding that parents can point out to their children the new things they learn each day, including recipes, how to repair items, even obtaining a company's phone number. "Talk about everything you are doing, just like when they are babies."
Parents should also talk to teachers— about what is going on in the home and things that can be affecting their child's behavior or focus.
"Let teachers know when there is a change at home, when there is a divorce, a sick family member, when a dog dies," said Coffey. "We do see it in the classroom, and it helps to know what is going on—any kind of change, even a medication change. Sometimes it's very helpful and we can talk to kids about it, too. So much of what we do is the social and emotional aspect, it's not just education, it's the whole well-being of the child and sometimes that is more important than the academics. We spend so much time with the kids... In my class, we are a family. What happens at home affects what happens at school and vice-versa."
Parents and teachers will disagree at times, but Coffey said that just like when there is a disagreement between parents, it's important to present a united front where kids are concerned.
"Please don't undermine what we are trying to do," she said. "If you have a disagreement with the teacher, discuss it with the teacher, not the kids."
Rapport between family and school is essential, Welling concurs.
"We're all in this together, for the good of the child," she said. "The most successful students have motivation and a willingness to try... Parents get intimidated, they think they're not a teacher or they didn't do well in school themselves. It's not so much about book knowledge, but the whole idea of being present, and that costs nothing. Ask questions, take interest. When your child says something that seems super exciting to them, don't cut that conversation off. Even if you don't know what to do with it, bring it back to the teacher."
Self-motivation is the common trait among the most successful students, Coffey observes. These students go above and beyond and strive to exceed expectations, which does not always mean straight A's.
"They are working hard, taking the challenge and doing the best they can," she said. "The grade isn't the important thing, it's them wanting to learn. Making mistakes is a good thing— if you don't, how are you learning? That is what learning is— you try, make mistakes, go back, and eventually you're successful."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville