Saturday, March 11, 2017

Teaching Students and Parents to Dream Big

Why Parents and Students Should Dream Big

1 Child, 16-20 years of school, and a Lifetime of Dreams!

We all live in an ever-changing world and change creates opportunity. Our students live in a land where anything is possible and creativity leads to individualism which then leads to success. Sadly, we aren't seeing the best results from our education system nowadays but why is this the case? Today, we are looking into the importance of parents within the education process. When children go through school they may need extra support, their academic potential and growth is limited without the parents connecting with this process. Instead, we want all parents to be involved and we want to teach parents and students alike that everyone should be dreaming big! 

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Harriet Tubman

So what is the answer? How do we ensure that it is the family going through the education process rather than just the student on their own? Well, it starts with academic acculturation for all students and families. The belief and ideal that every child should have an equal opportunity to achieve academic success and prosperity through collaboration, hard work, determination, initiative, and rigorous study. It truly does take a village to raise a happy and well educated child.

I love the idea that it doesn't take one person only to achieve your potential. It takes a village, it takes a community, a street, a teacher, a mother. Mira Nair

Academic Acculturation - Essentially, this is the process of adapting to the mindset required to be successful within an academic environment. For example, students and families should be aware of the positive/proactive mindset, correct scholarly attributes, work ethics, intrinsic emotional mindsets, and more to grow into the academic culture rather than growing apart from it. Initially, the term ‘acculturation’ was used to described two different cultures coming together but it fits here perfectly because we need to help struggling students and their parents to adapt to academic life. As soon as the two merge and become one, we are putting students in a much greater position for success. 

Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe. Gail Devers

With this in mind, we want to bring parents into the school experience with the students because it allows for a full understanding. Once both parties understand the culture, mindset, and positive traits required for success, that success becomes a whole lot easier to achieve. In particular, parental involvement becomes even more important and somewhat magnified in low socioeconomic status (SES) and special education students. Today, we have some solutions that will help with the idea and steps that educational facilities can take moving forward.

Positive Dialogue - Above all else, acculturation occurs with positive dialogue and this is for families, students, community leaders, and all staff members who are entrusted with maintaining these very important school-home relationships. If we break this down even further, we can see exactly how this first step can be achieved.

Share Values and Connections - Firstly, the four stakeholders we mentioned previously - we could say that they all have an interest or a ‘stake’ in a student’s education - should look for connections by sharing what they value. Once you know what each individual values, the connections can be found and a joint mission can be created taking all of these opinions into account. Suddenly, there will be something tying them all together which is an important first step.

Clarify the ‘Why’ - Most of the time, parents who aren't involved with their child’s education do so because they don’t understand and because they don’t realize the impact that they can have. However, this understanding comes through explanations so they begin to understand the ‘why’. For example, why is it important that the student takes part in certain activities? Why will a certain subject contribute to their future understanding of a more complex principle? Why is a certain assignment or piece of daily homework important to their education? The ability to learn, adapt and or take risk will appeal to employers in the future?

Infuse your life with action. Don't wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen... yourself, right now, right down here on Earth. Bradley Whitford

In this section, the barriers should be also assessed and everybody should be aware of why they create difficulties for the student’s education. As an example, a common question is ‘why aren’t writing assignments being completed?’. As soon as everybody involved knows the importance of completing said tasks, there won’t be any questions and the parent will ensure that the work is done. When the work is done, the teachers can assess it and note where improvements need to be made. Next time, the writing assignment will target those weaknesses and the student can improve. Without the parental involvement and without this basic level of understanding, none of this can take place and the student is left behind. 

People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives. 
J. Michael Straczynski

Remove Blame - Let’s face it, our defensive shields go up whenever there is blame in a discussion and this leads to no solutions whatsoever regardless of the topic. In education, the story is exactly the same whether it is the staff defending their processes or the parents defending their involvement in their child’s education. Therefore, the skill of discussing issues without blame needs to be learned by all.

With the first two steps we have seen so far, we are starting to create a nice open environment for conversation and communication. If blame creeps in, it ruins the hard work and brings it all to the ground. Therefore, all parties need to know that they can voice concerns without the defensive shutter coming down on someone else. This way, the point of the concerns can be addressed and the solutions will be found. Whenever this open communication is allowed, nobody feels hesitant towards voicing concerns in the future so this is extremely important. As long as everyone knows that they can be honest, the child will be the center of attention in their education and the prime focus for all involved - just as it should be.

Free Suggestions - Following on from the previous point, we should all be free to offer and take suggestions as they come. Whether it is the parents making suggestions on how to deal with their children or teachers making suggestions for what could be done at home to improve the learning of the student. Regardless of what direction it is given or received, it will be done so without blame and without an accusatory nature. Seeing as though we have already nailed the ‘no blame’ policy, giving suggestions without an accusing tone should be just as easy.

When this is allowed to occur, the whole dynamic around the student will change over time. If certain learning techniques aren't working, suggestions can be made for improvements or changes and the learning environment can grow and adjust. With special education students, this is perhaps more important than anywhere else because the environment has to be optimized and this may require some changes over time. If these suggestions cannot be given (or received) in a positive way, it is the student that suffers as opposed to anyone else.

As you can see, these four points will combine together to provide the perfect academic environment for the student and positive dialogue will be a key feature for teachers, parents, and the students themselves.

Create a Community of Leaders - Considering we are trying to show both parents and students that anything is achievable in today’s world, this can continue by creating a community of leaders. To help with the students and with parent orientation, these ambassadors and academic acculturation liaisons can further explain the points we have already discussed. In terms of the ‘why’ and sharing values, they provide key input from the ‘real-world’ and the opportunities that exist outside of education.

Introduce Communication Tools - In years gone by, we would see parents talking to teachers all the time but for some reason this has disappeared in many schools. In truth, it comes from both sides because teachers have seen their workloads increase with large class sizes, paperwork, discipline issues,  and a variety of other tasks while parents think of teachers as these superhuman beings that, when they aren't teacher their children, are stuck behind a laptop screen planning the next day’s lessons. In some cases, it is actually admiration for teachers as the reason why parents essentially ‘leave them to it’ because there is a trust in place. However, parental involvement is critical as we hope you are seeing here today.

If the communication tools are in place, teachers can discuss issues with parents in addition to academic requirements, rules, positive mindsets, emotional attitudes, expectations, etc. Rather than parents not even knowing their child’s expected grades, let’s get them involved so the whole operation pulls together as a well-oiled machine instead of pulling in different directions.

Utilize a Newsletter - In addition to the improved communication, newsletters for achievement and ‘academic success’ make for a great tool within an educational facility. Not only is it easy to form, it highlights the achievements of individual students across a manner of fields. For example, some students will excel in science while others prefer sports and newsletters show that all facets of education are important. When this atmosphere is created, it allows students to know that they can go where their strengths lay instead of being pushed in the wrong direction - this is a problem we have seen in recent years. Wouldn't it be great to allow students to go where their passion takes them without fear of prejudice or judgement?

Mutual Understanding and Respect - Ultimately, we all know that we are shaped by the environment around us which is why our parents are so important in the early years. Over time, we are affected by loved ones and relatives who teach us important things. Therefore, a win-win environment is vital in education where there is a mutual understanding and respect. Not only should this respect go from student to teacher, it should go the other way and include the parents. More than anything else, it teaches students how to respect others, how the world works, and it allows the steps we have seen so far to be introduced successfully.

Family Welcome Center - As we near towards the end of our tips and advice today, we have two last ideas that will boost the idea of dreaming big and allowing students and parents to thrive in the education phase of life. Firstly, a Family Welcome Center could offer information to students and teachers as well as offering volunteering opportunities, refreshments, and a communication hub where ideas, suggestions, and information can be passed from one person to the next.

Special Education Parent Liaison - Finally, we suggest a liaison of this kind to provide help with individualized education programs. Ultimately, this will have the main aim of improving the understanding of the school’s process when it comes to IEPs, SST, and the 504 plan. As soon as a full understanding has been achieved, parents will know how their children can make the most of their time at the particular school and this all comes back to letting children dream big and be the best they can be.

Conclusion - In the coming months and years, it is the time to put the BIG dreams back into children as well as their parents. Instead of staying away from the whole process, parents can enable the dreams of their children and show, LOVE, encouragement, understanding, and belief - this then leads to success. By following the steps laid out above, educational facilities have an opportunity to contribute to this journey while including the parents. When this all comes together, the results can be amazing and you only have to look at schools that have already introduced these changes to see that it really does work!

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