Four Critical Back to School Priorities That Have Nothing to Do with Shopping.
James L. Casale, Ph.D.
“First things first”~Stephen Covey
The stores are mobbed and the sales are in full swing. The kids are hanging off the shopping carts, “Mom, I need this!”School supplies are rocketing off store shelves into shopping carts and eventually will land on the planet, School, in August or September. Newspapers are laden with ads for school supplies and TV commercials for school stuff dominate the commercials.
Gee, am I that ancient? I don’t remember my mom taking me to the store for supplies or even asking me what I needed. In those ancient times, all I needed was a pencil and some paper. And I think the teacher gave them to me. How did I get through school without a highlighter, a backpack, or a permanent marker?
Now, the vast array of required supplies includes so much more than pencils and paper and notebooks. Retractable highlighters, twistable crayons, clip boards, dry erase boards, shiny folders with graphics, three ring binders, pocket folders, back packs with wheels, thumb drives(what are those?) and much more, now comprise the grocery list of items that are the “must haves”.
Hey-you elementary kids -don’t forget to bring in your box of tissues. At the last school I taught in, the students in the fifth grade had to bring both tissues and zip lock bags. I’m not sure why. There was plenty of sneezing but I never used the zip lock bags. Maybe the used tissues were supposed to go into the bags. No one told me.
I am not even going to mention purchasing new clothes, the latest footwear, or newer and improved electronic hardware. Ouch! Where’s my credit card?Is there a researched based connection between school supplies and school performance? Will Sarah and Jimmy suffer from brain freeze if they don’t possess retractable markers of every color? Are parents spending more time at the store and on-line rather than focusing on what should be their number one priority; converting their home into a learning palace?
One caveat to be noted throughout this essay is that no special skills are needed to accomplish your goals. What will be needed- in generous supply -are tough love, patience, courage, civility, accurate information, commitment, stamina, perseverance, and common sense.
FOUR REAL PRIORITIES
Number One Priority: A Family Mission Statement
Create a mission statement based on what your hopes, dreams, and expectations are for your child and your family. A concise mission statement provides focus, direction, and represents a guide for the behavior of the entire family.
For example; “Our family mission is to create an environment in our home that will support the physical, emotional, and academic growth and development of all family members.
Our home will be characterized by: love, respect, kindness, responsibility, hard work, selflessness and perseverance.” (KISS- Keep it short and simple) Write it on a poster board, hang it up and refer to it often. Modify when needed.
Discuss your mission statement with the entire family and ask for input from all members. It may help if your pet also nods in agreement. While consensus is desired, it is not mandatory. At times-in your house hold- autocracy is better than democracy. When in doubt, parents have the final say. Somebody has to be in charge and it helps if it’s the adults.
Number Two Priority-You Must Have a Plan
A mission statement without a plan of action is like one of those birthday balloons: It looks nice for a while, but eventually, it loses its air and usefulness. A specific plan of action must be devised to accommodate the mission statement if you expect to be successful. The following list, though not comprehensive will get you started:
- Fill your house with good books and all manner of interesting reading materials. (electronic devices for reading are acceptable)
- Routines are a must. Around all the other stuff, schedule quiet times for homework and reading; no TV or entertainment electronics. Family reading time is an overt message to children that reading is a top priority and the entire family will adhere to this routine at least on every school night. Family dinners are critical as are scheduled bed times and morning routines.
- Model expected behavior, model expected behavior
Number Three Priority –Daily Family Discussions about School
Take time each day to discuss school, learning, and the school work being brought home. Select a time and a place that is convenient, quiet, and lacking in drama. It doesn’t have to occur at the same place or at the same time. Keep it short or go with the flow. My favorite place to talk quietly with anyone without interruption is in the car. Remain calm but persistent.
“How was school today?”
“What did you do?”
“Did you learn anything?”
Does this sound familiar? We have all been there. When this conversation occurs (I recommend that you avoid it altogether) proceed immediately to plan B. Ask more specific questions about specific subjects and people. Probe until she surrenders and has to tell you something about what was read, written, measured, experimented with, drawn, played, sung, eaten, or observed. Ask about teachers and friends. Get creative.
Often, one of the best starting points for a discussion is the work your child brings home. Ask questions, ask for clarification, and ask for explanations. Remain positive, civil, and calm. Additionally, know your child’s schedule and use it to spark a conversation. What did you do in PE today? What did you do in your computer class? What did you do at recess?
Number Four Priority-Communicate Regularly with Teachers
Starting on the first day of school, beginning in kindergarten, expect to see the results of school work. In some situations, such as in primary grades K-2, you may receive daily examples of your child’s work. Weekly may be the norm in other grades but, the bottom line is parents need this information. And if they are not receiving it, parents must insist. Contact the teacher. This is a critical component that informs parents about progress.
Never wait for interim reports or report cards. Never become complacent even if you know that your child is doing well. Never hesitate to contact the teacher or school officials with questions, concerns, compliments, or clarifications. Again, civility rules. Remain positive and calm. Cooperation and collaboration are in your best interests. But your responsibility and commitment trump everything: Be diligent.
“Knowledge is power and influence; being proactive increases both”
-James L. Casale
This brief article is merely an introduction to the priorities that must be maintained by parents if they want their child to succeed in school and life. Start with your expectations and a plan to turn your home into a learning fortress. Saturate it with good books and reading materials and talk about school and learning and expectations. Do not totally rely on teachers or other school officials. Be proactive.
“For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world”
– William Ross Wallace
About the Author-Dr. Casale is a state and national award winning educator and the author of Wise Up and Be the Solution; How to create learning culture at home and make your child a success in school.His book is available in book stores, amazon and on his website www.parentsfirst.biz.