Lessons Learned

Kids benefit when parents and school work together.

As both a school principal and a parent, I know that kids are more successful at school if the relationship between home and school is positive and productive. Over the years, I’ve learned some key things about how to make and keep the relationship positive. I’d like to share them with you.

Talk to your kids

I believe that the foundation of the home-school relationship is the nightly dialogue between parents and kids. Informal discussions with your kids can provide a mechanism for parents to be proactive in addressing school problems, whether they are academic or social.

Of course, getting kids to talk may require some ingenuity. I vividly remember talking to my daughter about her first day of Kindergarten last September. But when I asked her what she learned at school that day, instead of the expected tales of stories read, structures built and ideas explored, she said, “Oh Daddy, not too much. Let’s go look for frogs.” My wife gently probed for more details, to no avail. After several weeks of similar exchanges, I developed a new approach. At the start of each family dinner, my wife Jocelyn and I each share an anecdote from our day. Abigail then tells us about one new thing she has learned in the classroom and one exciting thing that happened in the school yard. In this way, we get regular and informative updates about her school life.

Get to know school staff

Be visible and take the time to introduce yourself to classroom teachers, principals, and school secretaries who are often the first point of contact with the school. Establishing these positive relationships in advance leads to a level of comfort and trust which makes it much easier to reach consensus when issues do arise. Parents should never hesitate to contact the school if they are unclear about any aspect of the program be it academic or otherwise.

Be involved

I strongly encourage all parents to be actively involved in the school lives of their children. This involvement may take the form of something regular and formal such as volunteering for Breakfast and Hot Lunch Programs, working with students to support learning or serving on School Councils. However, it can also be much less formal and include assisting teachers with sports teams or choirs, 

participating in fundraisers and attending special 
events like concerts. I cannot count the number of
 occasions over the years that different students have entered my office to proudly inform me that their Mom or Dad would be coming on the next class trip.

Solve problems together

I am regularly in the position of phoning parents to inform them of issues involving their children. Most conversations start with me introducing myself and explaining that I am calling because of an incident at school. This generally results in a deep sigh at the other end of the line followed by a concerned and wary question, “What’s wrong?” These unfortunate situations can happen to anyone and tend to be resolved more productively when all sides remain calm and rational.

I remember spending three weeks of my life as a grade eight student working in the principal’s office as the result of a youthful indiscretion. The emphasis in those days seemed to be on punishment for the student and embarrassment for the parents involved. Today most schools resolve conflicts using the philosophy of Restorative Practice. Simply put, we encourage students to take responsibility for their actions and allow both sides, including parents, a voice in the resolution of the problem. The goal is to make things right and then move forward in a respectful manner.

Understand school’s goals

Some parents don’t have a firm understanding of the focus of today’s schools. This often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. The academic focus of schools today is very different from when most of us attended elementary school. The modern world is a rapidly evolving place and we are preparing students for careers that may not yet exist. The era of steadily working for 30 years for the same employer in the same role is likely finished. As a result, schools now stress concepts like evaluation, analysis and the application of higher order thinking instead of memorization or recalling facts. We want students to create knowledge, not recite knowledge. Our objective is to provide students with the skills necessary to creatively solve tough problems in multiple settings and to perservere until they find and prove solutions.

I strongly encourage you to visit your school this fall and ask questions. When parents and schools work together, it is our students who benefit.

Author: Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher is a principal with the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB. He lives in the Northumberland Hills with his wife and daughter.

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