An Apple a Day

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

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Chick that Fell Out of the Nest

"I don't want to do this," she said between sobs. "I just don't want to be here."

I handled her registration form like a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. We'd picked out her classes for next semester and even though Kallie (not her real name) wanted to go back to her high school and drop out of our early college program, it was my job to register her for the next semester.

"I've talked to them both over and over again," she said. "They don't understand. I'm just not ready to be here. It's too much. It's all too much!"

"This looks like a much better schedule this time," I said pointing to the computer print out. "I think you'll enjoy if you give it a chance."

She ignored my encouragement.

"What can I do to get thrown out of this program?" She said with a sly smile, knowing she'd get a rise out of me. Yet, she was that desperate.

"Don't jeopardize your future by doing something stupid," I said. I was wearing my "mom" hat now. The thing was - I agreed. I knew that Kallie was not ready for this transition to early college. After all, it's not for everyone.

As parents we believe we know what's best for our children and hate it if someone tells us differently - even when it's our own children. It's hard to let them make their own decisions about what's best for them when we're used to making those decisions for them.

How do you know when it's time?

Consider first, how high are the stakes? Then, how much prior experience have you given them to make decisions on their own? Finally, will this decision help or hinder their march towards maturity?

Kallie had mapped out all the reasons she wasn't quite ready for the responsibility thrust upon her. Her parents didn't listen.

How do you know when to shove the baby bird out of the nest and when to hold them back away from the edge? It may be too comfortable for them in that nest. Without a good shove, they'll never learn how to fly for themselves.

Right now Kallie's view of her nest is from the ground. She may need to be hand fed and protected a little more than the rest if she doesn't get back into the nest. Or she may discover that she is indeed strong enough and able to fly - she just won't know until she tries.

Her parents know her better than I do, but for me all I can do is show her the way and keep the predators away. The rest, is up to her.

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!