When schooling works, “there’s no place like school!”

Pretend I’m Dorothy.  I’m wearing my red shoes and I’ve closed my eyes and tapped my heels together three times and said, “There’s no place like school.”  But something’s awry.  I’m Stern; it’s 2013 and many of our schools are not where we hoped they would be.

So, this year, I’m wishing all students academic success in safe and secure classrooms!  Not only safe and secure in the sense of avoiding physical tragedy, but safe and secure in the sense that students are comfortable learning, that they feel supported by school staff and peers.  Neurological data supports enhanced learning in this climate.  When everything comes together, it’s INSPIRING.   To attain academic success, parents need to pay attention to what’s going on in their child’s classroom.

January is a perfect time to reevaluate classroom learning.  Final exams are approaching for adolescents and teens; in elementary school, students will be reaching their 100th day at school.

Consider the classroom climate.  Learning is most productive in an organized and respectful classroom.  Check in with your child.  Do students know and support each other?  Is bullying nonexistent?  Do the students and teacher listen to each other?  Collaborate?  Does your child feel understood and valued?

Learning is undermined when students don’t feel appreciated.  Rather than taking in new information, their brain focuses on the stressor so as to survive the hostile environment.   Gifted children, boys in particular, are at risk in inflexible classrooms.  Some teachers feel threatened by them—their questions, their attitudes, or their behaviors.  Students who are not valued may act out or check out.  Either way, valuable time is lost.  Astute parents often pick up on their child’s stress and work with the school to rectify the problem.

Consider your child’s progress in the classroom:  What evidence do you have of your child’s growth?   It’s best to analyze student growth over time.  Personally, I recommend looking at test results mapped over an 18-month period.  Same for report cards or any other reports.  They show trends.  At best, you will see positive learning patterns and achievement.  At worst, you will see holes in student learning.  This is especially relevant when it comes to gifted and talented students.  They are often involved in accelerated work and may have missed necessary skills or concepts.  Once taught to them, they will readily grasp the material.

Consider the classroom learning objectives:  Teachers are working very hard to establish clear learning objectives that are consistent with the new common core standards.  Nevertheless, it’s important to discuss your child’s learning objectives with him.  Does he understand them?  Are they working for him?  Check in with the teacher if there is a problem or if they don’t make sense to you.

Ongoing classroom issues:  Parents of gifted and talented children need to monitor classroom activity to see whether classroom teachers are “teaching up” or challenging their child.  Is the curriculum a quality curriculum?  Is your child working with his identified peers?  Gifted children learn so much from each other, especially when they dialogue.  Do test results reflect your child’s true strengths?  This can go either way.  A checked out gifted student may be underachieving.  A student getting straight A’s may not be challenged.  Either way, the student is not growing.  Parents know their child the best.   Step in and help your child and school staff ferret this out—even if it requires outside professional testing.

Remember, education is a work in progress.  I like to tell parents that education is a marathon, not a race.  Persistence matters!  So does positive support from teachers, peers, and of course, parents.

This year, let’s throw in a little hope.  Let’s close our eyes, tap our heels together three times, and say there’s no place like school and mean it.  To 2013, respectful classroom climates, and positive mental attitudes!

Happy New Year!

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