I never thought I would be that kind of parent

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This past week we had parent teacher conferences for each of my two school-aged daughters and I did something that I never thought I would do.

Let me just say that they are great kids and great students. My wife and I have no concerns whatsoever about their progress this school year. Other than the occasional forgotten assignment or procrastination on a project, they both tend to be well-adjusted, great students. (We are truly blessed and hope it continues in middle school, high school and beyond.)

All of that being said, at our first conference with our 2nd grader, her teacher shared with us an example of a timed math facts activity. Basic addition and subtraction facts, not for a grade but just to build fluency – absolutely important for building math skills. My daughter had only a few completed and correct – less than I may have anticipated…so that’s when I asked the question I never thought I would ask.

“How does that compare with the rest of the class?”

It doesn’t really matter how she compares with the rest of the class, my real question should have been in regards to my daughter meeting expectations or not – regardless of her classmates.

The next day we had conferences for my oldest daughter, 5th grade. (Side note – this was my first experience as a parent with a student led conference – really neat idea and a great way for students to own their learning.) In talking about math and her progress, I did it again.

“What is the math placement process for 6th grade?”

Not a bad question, the issue was my motivation behind the question. Reading between the lines, my real question was “Does she have a chance at getting into the highest level?”

Twice in one week, I was that parent…

I initially felt guilty but then I realized why I did it. I simply want my kids to have as many opportunities as possible; I want to ensure that I am doing everything necessary to set them up for success.

Isn’t that just what most parents want?

From the parents who appear to be uninvolved to those helicopter parents – they all want to see their students succeed. Problems emerge when parents add undue stress to students by expecting excellence in every area or when schools appear to create barriers to student success. In those instances both sides lose touch of reality and home & school relationships become adversarial.

Ideally, as parents we are able to balance our hopes and dreams for our kids with the reality that not everyone will or even need to excel in everything. If we as parents can advocate for kids and support learning from an informed understanding of education then our involvement in schools will greatly benefit our kids.

On a deeper level, when both parents and educators truly know kids’ strengths, interests, and ambitions then each child will find their pathway to personal success.

If I keep that as my main motivation, then perhaps my questions will look quite different at our next parent-teacher conference.

The Educational Trifecta

In my years of experience I have seen a lot of great successes in schools. Kids exceeding expectations and accomplishing amazing goals; teachers collaborating and developing top-notch learning environments; parents selflessly giving of their time and resources to contribute to the school community.

As I reflect back on those experiences I realize that the most impactful learning occurs at the intersection of all of these components – motivated students, highly skilled teachers, and engaged parents – the “trifecta” of success factors.

Most learning institutions are not that fortunate to have all three pieces of the puzzle in place. That’s okay though…experience and research would say those schools with at least 2 out of 3 in place can still be great places for kids to learn. For instance, a school with great teachers and engaged parents can succeed even when students are less than motivated.

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I would argue that too many schools across the country, depending on the year, operate with at most one of these components school-wide – sure there may be grade levels or departments of teachers that are rock stars, or perhaps are a small dedicated team of parents, or maybe a handful of stand-out students that are highly motivated. But consistent performance across the entire school…most school communities find themselves with maybe one of these components that they can really point to.

So what happens to student learning in these schools?

At the individual student level, when an unmotivated student has uninvolved parents and a mediocre teacher…that student is essentially sunk, an entire year wasted. The other side of that coin though would suggest that an unmotivated student with a great teacher and engaged parents would find success.

How can we level the playing field and mitigate these variables across the country so that all students can find success?

A possible solution…

Let’s strive to empower parents to play an active role in education.  Let’s help them better understand the educational system, provide them with quick and easy tips to help them support their kids at home, and give them access to simple tools to interact with schools.

At the same time we can help teachers better know their students as individuals and give them direct lines of communication with parents and students to talk specifically about learning.

We can do this while helping students find their passions and share ownership of their education. We can provide students with the necessary tools to guide them through the second half of their K12 education journey well into their college and career.

A solution such as this would allow parents to respectfully and appropriately advocate for their kids if necessary. It would assist great teachers in further engaging parents. Students will find motivation and relevance as they see how their current actions can impact their future opportunities.

That’s why myOWNedu exists – to close those gaps and help more kids find success.  Learn more at http://www.myOWNedu.net.