An Apple a Day

The teaching of children should not be sacrificed in favor of paperwork - ever!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When You Step Off the Well Worn Path

"The road less traveled" (Robert Frost)
"All roads lead to Rome" (Omnes viae Romam ducunt)

Off the beaten path. . . especially if the path has beaten you down!

I am truly amazed at how many educational choices and pathways exist in this moment in history. And for that I am grateful. Although some may argue that we've become too individualistic as a society and that our consumerism has even taken over the educational realm, I am still grateful.

No two children are alike in their educational needs, gifts, talents, and futures. For more decades than I'd like to count, we've made difference out to be "bad," intolerable, and separate. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is not only difficult (if not impossible), but painful as you must break the square peg, or at least shave off its interesting corners to make it fit. There have been too many broken children for the sake of staying on the traditional path.

I see education now as a puzzle. Differently shaped pieces fit together to create a beautiful scene. It doesn't matter if it is a 20 piece puzzle or a 2000 piece puzzle - the scene it creates is the same.

The "powers that be" and those who want to maintain the status quo get nervous when you step off the well worn path. Our job as parents and educators is not to keep people in line (much as we want to, especially in crowded school hallways), but to help each child find the right path for them to get what they need.

My own children experienced traditional public school, homeschooling, dual enrollment, early college, and virtual school during their journey toward preparing for college and career. Their paths zigzagged across systems and states. And they are both the better for taking the roads less traveled.

Sometimes when enough people step off the well worn path, they create new and more direct routes to a destination. Sometimes its better not even to pour the cement for the sidewalk until you see the paths people tend to take on their journeys. When I took a dozen high school students to Notre Dame for their ND Vision retreat, we saw how many sidewalks crisscrossed that campus. The pattern was established after the university saw how students chose to walk. More often than not, they chose the most direct route for themselves.

So if your child needs to take a different path than the one already paved, walk with them and seek out alternative routes. One is not better than another. Different is just that, different. The idea is to get where you are going.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Top 10 Tips for Parent/Teacher Conferences

At this point in the year, you know if there is a problem at school with your child. At least one report card has come and gone and if he or she is having trouble, it's obvious now. If you haven't been invited in for a parent/teacher conference, take it upon yourself to request one - NOW! The longer you wait, the more damage that has to be undone by the time you do meet.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for a productive parent/teacher conference. Some may not be what you expect, but I promise they make a difference.

1. Include your child in the conference – this alleviates the he said/she said scenario. Children need to feel that they are a part of the solution.
2. Come prepared with questions written down so you won’t forget them - have specific questions, but prioritize them because you may not have time to address them all in one conference.
3. Take notes or make sure you get a copy of any notes taken by the teacher - just as in the doctor's office, you may forget what the teacher said and what you agreed to for a solution.
4. Time is usually limited, so stay on topic - often teachers have other duties they need to be at so they may only be able to meet for about 15 minutes. Lengthy explanations or stories are not necessary. Be wary of TMI (too much information) that may take you off track.
5. Create an action plan before you leave with teachers - ideally this should be a problem-solving meeting. Come up with possible solutions to try before you leave.
6. Agree on a date to follow up on the action plan - follow up in important. Just as you would follow up with your doctor, follow up with the teacher.
7. Ask the teacher how you might better support his or her work on behalf of your child - treat this relationship as a partnership. Parents and teachers are co-creators of a child's education.
8. Tell teachers if something is different in your home (i.e., separation, divorce, illness, job loss, death, etc.) - children are sensitive to life changes in the home and will be distracted by them. Let teachers know if something has changed at home.
9. Leave egos at the door; this is about your child, not you - all too often parents and teachers make the conference about what one or the other is NOT doing for the child. But it can't be limited to this. The child is accountable as well. Make this less about you, and more about your child. 
10. Make sure you know what the teacher will do, what you will do, and what your child will do to improve the situation - point by point, who will do what and by when? Make a list and then follow up in an agreed upon timeframe to see how everyone is holding up their end.

All hands on deck! Education is not a one-man show. This is something we create together!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to School: Ready or Not

Teresa is ready for the first day of school tomorrow.She teaches 7th grade in a center for gifted studies and loves her job! From first hand experience I'm here to tell you that she's really good at what she does. Her classroom is picture perfect ready. Her lesson plans are ready. She has all her supplies and knows all the names of her new students. Being a teacher requires you to be ready. What we may forget is that just because we're ready doesn't mean all our kiddos are ready for that first day.

As a parent you may have bought everything on the school supply list for your child. You may have altered their schedules in preparation to make sure they don't stay up late and can get up early. You may have 5 lunches already packed for this upcoming week. But is your child really ready?

Nick, who is about to enter his senior year in high school, hates the prospect of returning to the school routine. He dislikes getting up early after sleeping late all summer long. But what bothers him most is the return to a structured routine that defines how he is expected to learn. Nick's main concern is an academic one.

Nick's youngest sister, Bree, is about to enter middle school, and she's apprehensive about what kind of work will be expected of her in this new environment. But Bree's main worry is that she won't know many kids and will have to deal with people she doesn't like. Bree's concern is mostly a social one.
There are many reasons why children may not be excited about returning to school. . .

Read more about what to do if your child has the back-to-school blues and then really ask the question "Is my child ready for school?"