By Christina Katz
Raising engaged students is not only the responsibility of the teachers and the administrators at your school, it’s a job that starts at home with every parent. You may have anxiety, fears, or merely first-day jitters about your child going to school. But if you can muster up your courage and take a one-good-day-at-a-time approach, you will find that raising a child who loves school is easier than you might have imagined.
Just follow these four simple guidelines, keep your interactions with your school’s employees constructive and upbeat, and watch the magic that occurs when your child loves learning.
Share to prepare. Tell your child what you enjoyed about school. If your spouse enjoyed school, encourage him to share stories, too. But if you had a difficult time in school, share those stories with someone who is not your child. Talk to another adult about the ways you struggled, and how those struggles might color your expectations of what school will be like for your child. Get your fears and biases about school off your chest and let them go so you won’t unwittingly pass them on. Remember, your child is not you. That was then, this is now. By confronting and releasing any back-to-school skeletons in your closet, you open the doors to a positive school experience for your child today.
Step back. Some parents have trouble trusting that a school will care about their child as much as they do. And it’s true—teachers won’t treat your child like a parent would. They will probably expect more. And they will care about your child as educational professionals, who want to challenge your child so she can realize her potential, so let them do their jobs. Smart parents know that school is not just about academics. When your child is in school, she is learning how to be a member of a community. She is learning how to socialize and enjoy playtime. She is learning how to express herself through art, music and physical activity. So take a leap of faith. Remind yourself that the folks who run schools are trained professionals. Trust them with your child’s daily education and wellbeing. Then your child will experience every day as an adventure in learning and growing.
Be positive and proactive. Try to find something to like about your school on a regular basis. If you don’t know what to like, then you might not be aware enough. Introduce yourself to teachers on open-house days and meet the folks who work in the front office, including the principal. Make sure the teacher knows you are on her team. If you have a miscommunication or misunderstanding with a teacher or administrator, strive to work things out in a calm, pro-active manner. Don’t hang on to negative perceptions or try to create negative consensus with other parents. Confident, secure parents seek solutions not squabbles. Put yourself in the teacher or administrator’s shoes before you pick up the phone or shoot off that e-mail. Remember, the way you would like to be treated is the way to behave, always, no matter how you feel in the heat of the moment.
Give without strings. Whether you work full time or not, there are typically two types of parent volunteers: those who willingly pitch in and help and those who don’t want to spend time at school but do it for their kids. Be honest about the kind of parent you are, so you can find ways to be a cheerful contributor to the school.
If you like to pitch in, join the PTA or sign up to be a room parent. You will find plenty of opportunities to contribute but do so without expectations of payoffs for your child based on your involvement. The benefits for your child come when you happily contribute, not when you use your position as an insider to create an ongoing list of how you would do things differently and better. Remember your role as a helper in the larger scheme of things. Be service-minded, looking for opportunities to match the school’s needs with what you have to offer.
No matter how you choose to contribute, when you give the way you want to give, you set a great example for your kids. Parents who invest energy cheerfully and proactively in their child’s school stand out in the crowd for all the right reasons, paving the way to success in school for all their children.
Author, journalist and writing coach Christina Katz has always loved school and strives to pass this passion on to her daughter. She comes from an extended family of enthusiastic learners, teachers, and educators.