My Back to School Promise to My Daughters

This week my daughters had to sign a Code of Behavior Agreement for their Hebrew School.  It stated that they wouldn’t use electronic devices at school, would arrive on time, respect others and the property and basically act like a decent human being.  Not much to ask for.  At their real school the discipline code is a ridiculous generic booklet sent home by the DOE that reads more like a legal document and doesn’t mean anything to a child.  Either way, the idea of child signing a slip of paper as a way to enforce real respect and civility is a waste of time.  The real code of behavior comes from home where expectations are discussed, debated and understood.  Same is true in effective classrooms.  And that is all well and good.  What I haven’t seen much of is a code of behavior to be signed by parents.  (or teachers and staff for that matter)  So I’m laying out my behavior contract for how I will help them with their educational goals and work for the year.

  1. I will provide an organized workspace for my kids.  Folders, pencil cases, supplies and quiet.  They will know where their stuff is, be able to find it and put it back themselves and feel like they have a real space to work.  It’s called the kitchen table but it’s theirs until dinner time.
  2. I will make them go to bed at a reasonable bedtime.  Isn’t that nice of me?
  3. I will not give them ready answers to homework problems or let them give up on difficult questions.
  4. I will volunteer – way too much – at their school, but still try to attend events with them.  This one is my tricky one.  The irony of being so heavily involved at the co-President level of the PA is that it sometimes comes at the expense of actually being there for your kid.  But, that’s something I’m getting better at balancing.
  5. I won’t embarrass them.  (well, not intentionally anyway)

And really I don’t know what else to say.  There’s the important stuff like fighting budget cuts and pushing for better and more challenging curriculum and enrichment but those are huge, big picture items that are part of my job.  I wish I could promise that I won’t complain in front of them about the things that make me nuts at their school and at the Department of Education, but that would be almost impossible.

So, that’s it.  That’s my code of behavior for the year.  I wonder what would happen if schools really did make parents sign contracts – and held them to it – and vice versa.  What do you think you can do to help your child’s education goals for the year?

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Parents as Meaningful Partners in Education

This post was originally written for the White House Champions of Change series and was published last week by Parenting on the Mom Congress blog.   As I prepare for my speaking gig at the #140 Conference on Education I thought I’d share what I’m working on and what I plan on talking about…

How many times during the year are you in your child’s school?  How many times have you been invited inside the classroom to celebrate the good, as opposed to deal with the bad?  Could you articulate what your child is supposed to learn this year?  Do you know the academic goals?  The discipline procedures?  The expectations being set for your child – or more importantly if any expectations are being set for your child?  These are the questions I grapple with every week along with my fellow Parents Association (PA) CO-President, other leadership parents, our administration and our teachers as we try to figure out how to create a strong bridge between home and school and engage our parents in a real way.

One thing I’ve learned since being involved in my daughters’ large NYC public school is that there is a disconnect between the amount of information teachers think they are giving parents and the amount of information parents feel they are receiving.  After attending the Parenting Magazine Mom Congress and meeting women from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, I know that our school is not unique in trying to figure out this dilemma.  The common theme is that parents want concrete, clear goals for their children.  They want to understand how material is being presented – particularly in math – and they want to know how to help at home.  It’s impossible to be a partner in anything, let alone your child’s education if you don’t what you’re working toward.

What do parents need from teachers and administrators to be effective partners?

  1. Clear curriculum goals for the year.  Just like in college when everyone gets a syllabus why shouldn’t elementary schools kids have the same framework for their learning over the course of the year?  Of course teachers should have wiggle room, and the ability to update as the year goes on, but seeing a roadmap for the year gives everyone a plan they can refer to when goals seem elusive.
  2. Celebrate the positive.  Invite parents in the classroom for end of curriculum open houses so parents can review their child’s body of work, see the work of all the kids, connect with each other, and feel a part of the classroom.  Tell parents when kids are excelling or do something special rather than just the bad behavior or struggles.
  3. Curriculum mornings or evenings on a grade wide basis to talk about literacy and math.  Put materials in non-educator speak, demystify acronyms and take questions.
  4. Monthly parent newsletter or email from the teacher for curriculum updates.  Clear, short and to the point.  Teachers seem to think that kids tell their parents everything that is going on in the classroom – they don’t, not by a long shot.

It’s not a bridge unless both sides are willing to meet halfway.  So parents – don’t come in angry, defensive and entitled.  I’m not talking about when things have gone very wrong and a child was harmed – I mean stand up and have a conversation about issues before they turn into debacles.  Articulate what you need and where you are coming from without boiling over with anger.

Engagement works both ways.  We throw a huge teacher appreciation dinner midway through the year as well as provide dinner for the teachers during parent/teacher conferences.  These events are filled with homemade food, a lot of thought and hours of volunteer time, but it’s important to let teachers know we value their time and hard work.

In the end it always boils down to clear communication.  The more parents know the more they can help.  And if the grownups can’t figure out how to talk to each other how can we ever expect our children to do better?