Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Go Team! How to start the school year right

This week, I rediscovered a great article by Joe Bruzzese, a leading expert for the middle school years. The piece is about how a team approach to reaching and teaching a child can "make the difference." I thought I would share it with you here:

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
— Henry Ford

According to the United States Census Bureau, today’s generation of school-age children spend the majority of their waking hours in the care of someone other than their parents. Given the influence that teachers, coaches, mentors, and extended family members have on a child’s development, the necessity for building a relationship with this group of people has never been greater. But, for parents, creating a team of focused and motivated individuals who will continually support the ongoing growth of your child requires a new set of skills.

The first skill is to be able to envision the sort of success you want for your child in the school year. Once you have this vision, you need to clearly identify the extended support team. Do you know who is on your team — and how you can work with them all in the interest of your child’s success in school?

Five Steps to Building Your Support Team
Create a roster. Who will impact your child’s life this year? Begin by creating a list of the adults who will connect with your child during the first month of school. Teachers, school administrators, coaches, mentors, and extended family members are common additions to most team rosters.

Position the players. With a completed roster in place, identify when and where your child will see these critical people. Teachers and school personnel typically fall within a specified seven-hour time block on a regular Monday-through-Friday schedule. However, the after-school hours are equally important. Identifying who will supervise your child beyond the conclusion of the school day creates an accurate picture of your child’s life and the role that each adult will play this year.

Connect. The beginning of a school year marks the start to many new and inspiring relationships. During the first few weeks of school, take two minutes to communicate with each person on your roster. Send a written note, e-mail message, or share a quick conversation in person. The message to convey is short yet sincere, “Hi, I just wanted you to know how excited I am to have you in my child’s life this year.” This quick introduction sends a powerful message to everyone on your team about the importance of each person’s role in your child’s life.

Check in. Don’t wait until a problem arises to initiate a conversation. Every two to three weeks, check in with each of the people on your roster. Start the conversation with, “How are you?” and then let the discussion flow from there. Beginning with an open-ended question that allows the conversation about your child to evolve naturally. Leading questions like, “How was her behavior today?” or “Were there any problems?” bring immediate focus to a potentially negative set of comments that result in creating greater distance between parents and key adults in their child’s life. The opportunity to share positive comments or questions is lost amidst the negativity.

Celebrate. Reaching milestones and achieving goals is cause for celebration. Placing a quick call to your child’s teacher after the conclusion of a long-term project or class play shows acknowledgement and appreciation — two characteristics of supportive teams. The more often team members celebrate together, the stronger the relationship grows. As a teacher and a mom, Dee Moran knows the importance of celebrating achievement. “Our six-year-old likes being recognized for his achievements,” she says. “The simplest words of praise and acknowledgment leave him proud for days. Julie, our 13-year-old, typically opts for a more subtle approach to celebration, preferring to spend a night out with friends at the movies after bringing a successful semester to a close. Celebrating achievements both small and large keeps everyone moving forward.”

Bringing the valued members of your team together, both at home and in the community, allows your vision to become a reality. Celebrating the fulfillment of a vision inspires motivation for continued success. Enjoy the year ahead with your family.

Joe Bruzzese, author of A Parent’s Guide to the Middle School Years and co-founder of Thinking-Forward.com, can be reached at joe@Thinking-ForwardTV.com.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chances are your kid isn't going to law school

Dig this: “If you have a child entering grade school this fall, file away just one number with all those back-to-school forms: 65 percent. Chances are just that good that, in spite of anything you do, little Oliver or Abigail won’t end up a doctor or lawyer — or, indeed, anything else you’ve ever heard of. According to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.” *

Whoa! Wow! Yikes! Yowzaa! This isn’t Batman, Robin, this is the 21st Century. A technology tidal wave is upon us. Now remember, it’s just a tool - just like a pencil - but utilized during the teaching and learning process, it is a phenomenally complex tool for students to use to communicate, connect, and collaborate in new and even more meaningful ways. So much for the pencil analogy. Some feel schools will become immaterial unless they gravitate to these emerging technologies and employ them to better understand today’s learners. Many new educational leaders such as Eric Sheninger, a connected principal and the subject of a recent article in USA Today on social media in the classroom, think so. I tend to agree with him.

In the coming weeks, I am preparing to engage the Middle School in a conversation about becoming a school of the future - a 21st Century institution of teaching and learning. With a change in mindset and administrative support, as well as a host of digital tools, including social media, this can happen. In fact, it must. Yowzaa!

* From “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade” By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN August 7, 2011, 5:30 PM