What Parents Can Learn From Teachers

Photos by Andrew Schwartz

Twice each year, New York Family sponsors the Blackboard Awards, which honor local schools, principals, and teachers of excellence from every educational sector—public, private, charter, and parochial—and from nursery through high school. We asked some of the winners from last June’s Teacher Awards to share some good ideas for how parents can better contribute to their children’s academic success. Not surprisingly, they had a lot to say.

Susie Kavanaugh
Fifth Grade Social Studies, Corlears School

Establish a routine. In my experience, children perform better when they know what to expect each week. This allows them to focus on their responsibilities without worrying about a change in plans. If your child is old enough, sit down together and have him or her fill out a weekly calendar (include extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, playdates, etc.). Children often complain that they “don’t have enough time” to complete their homework each night. Help your child schedule time to complete homework assignments.

Andrew Adler
Eighth Grade Humanities, NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies

One of the best ways that you can help your children is to talk to them about their day in school. It seems almost too simplistic. I just have to ask them what happened? Yes! Believe it or not, the act of talking about what they did during their day has been shown to improve educational performance. So when you sit down for a relaxing meal after a long day, take a few minutes to talk about the events that transpired and what they learned in the classroom that day.

Lindsay Werner
Third Grade, Philosophy Day School

The school year is the perfect opportunity for parents to set up new routines and instill new practices to help their children succeed. One of the most important things a parent can do for their child is help them learn to build stamina, be a problem solver, and meet challenges head-on. Starting a new grade is always riddled with new responsibilities, more challenging homework, and plenty of opportunities to try new things. Students who believe that they are inherently hard workers have parents who encourage their hardworking spirit rather than only praise their successes. It all comes down to language, for children of any age. By simply rethinking how you might word a response to your son or daughter’s challenges, a parent can transform their child’s whole attitude about themselves and their abilities. To read more on this topic, check out Mindset by Carol Dweck. I recommend it to parents at the start of every school year as a must-read for helping their children become fearless problem-solvers and thoughtful hard workers!

Rose Coffield
Pre-K, The Weekday School at Riverside Church

For many families, preschool is their first school experience—and a time for families and teachers to really get to know a child. Children really begin to show us how they think about the world around them during these first years in school, and it’s important to use these observations to make their first school experiences fun and engaging. Is their learning style one in which they watch what’s going on around them and do the same? Are they analyzing the toys they play with and wondering how they work? Are they listening to everything they hear and committing it to memory? When we watch them play during this time, we learn a lot through the questions they ask, the way they use the materials in the classroom, and how they interact with each other. The information we gain about the way each child learns during this time can be invaluable for helping support them in their future academic endeavors.

Tonia Percy
Second Grade, PS 290 – Manhattan New School

Offer to help your child find out more about topics being explored in school. Use the Internet or take a trip to the library. Learning side by side can be a great bonding experience. If your child seems excited about a field trip, offer to go back. Your child can be your tour guide and will be thrilled to share with you what was learned.

Lisa Harrelson
Kindergarten, Success Academy Charter School

The parent-teacher partnership is vital to your children’s success and joy in school. Please don’t project your anxieties about school onto your children. Your children tend to mirror your attitude; if you exhibit a positive, optimistic attitude toward school, your children will likely adopt a positive attitude as well, even if school is not easy for them. Children’s attitudes are often just as important as their aptitude.

Also, try not to compare your children to their siblings, cousins or friends. Of course, you can use other children as a point of reference, but let the comparisons end there. Every child is different, with different abilities, different strengths, and different personalities. Attempting to compare one child with another truly is like comparing apples and oranges. You’re doing your children a grave disservice if you constantly compare them with other children and dismiss their individuality.

Cara Beseda
Kindergarten, PS 87 – William T. Sherman School

Kindergarten is the beginning of your child’s educational journey. Try not to get caught up in the “sooner is better” mindset and rob your son or daughter of age-appropriate learning experiences. Also, talk positively about school. Children pick up on and often imitate our behaviors and emotions.

Beyond your own actions, look at your child’s teachers as your partners in their education. Be open and honest with them about your child. Keep them apprised of any significant changes going on in your child’s life. The more your kid’s teachers know, the better they will be able to meet their needs.

When it comes to praising your child, keep it genuine and specific. Stress hard work, persistence, and perseverance in the face of challenges. This applies to something as simple as choosing a more difficult puzzle over the one they are confident they can complete. If your child is struggling with an issue, try to break it down so it’s not so overwhelming. Point out and praise the small steps to keep them motivated!

Also, children can be really hard on themselves. Often they will not attempt something if they do not think it will come out “perfectly.” Help your child understand that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process and that no one is perfect.

Aside from working hard, play serves a critical role in the development of the whole child. For example, play nurtures your child’s ability to get along with others, work in groups, compromise, collaborate, peacefully settle disagreements, and gain patience and tolerance for others. Children use play to explore and make sense of their world. Play is used to process emotions, work through stress, and to express creativity and individuality. Provide your child with open-ended toys and games, such as blocks. These toys promote creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and many other skills that will make them well-rounded students and people.

Lastly, schedule free time for your child. Enrichment activities are wonderful, but children also need time to let loose. The school day is long, and a lot of self-control and hard work is expected of them. They need time to decompress and expend their energy!

Marija Kero
Seventh and Eighth Grade Math, Equality Charter School 

Mathematics tends to be the most challenging subject for our students as well as their parents. Parents often tell me that they want to help their children with their math homework, but don’t understand the concepts themselves. Mathematics is present in so many different facets of everyday life, and parents can easily incorporate math practice into things like shopping and sports.

When you go shopping with your children, take the opportunity to practice percentage skills by having them calculate discounts mentally. For instance, if an item is 10 percent off, the easiest way to calculate the discount is to instruct your child to move the decimal one space to the left. So for example, 10 percent off an item that originally costs $24.00 is $2.40 off. And remind your child to subtract the discount from the original price.

Math is related to sports as well, and I like to focus on calculating shot percentage. If your child plays basketball, he or she can track the improvement of his or her shooting skills by keeping tally of how many shots are made and how many are attempted. For example, if your child attempts 25 shots and makes 12 of them, your child can calculate this as the fraction 12/25. (12 divided by 25 is .48, so your child made 48% of the shots!)

Lois Eder
Special Education, Susan Wagner High School

Let the teacher know that you want to work as a team and communicate what motivates your child. Some kids, for example, react especially well to positive praise. If there are any specific areas where you need cooperation, such as homework or organizational skills, you can work with the teacher to prepare strategies.

Here are some key practices that I recommend to parents:

If you can, you should probably turn off the TV. It can be very distracting.

Contrary to what many people believe, special needs kids sometimes work better when they are listening to music. When you let them use earphones, it reduces outside stimuli and helps them focus on the task at hand.

Designate a specific area of your home for homework. It doesn’t have to be at a traditional desk or workspace; what’s important is that it’s consistent.

Have a timer and have your child work for a specific period of time before taking a break. Once the timer goes off, let your child spend the break time however he or she likes.

Make your child aware of his or her internal clock. When does he or she have the most energy? Does he or she work better before or after dinner?

Remember, your child has a voice and should be given the opportunity to participate in this plan.

Cynthia Darling writes about parenting and education, and teaches English literature and writing to high school students at an area private school.  


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Congregation Beth Elohim Early Childhood Center

<p><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-family: Arial; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal;" data-sheets-value="{" data-sheets-userformat="{">A progressive preschool that nurtures childrens’ natural curiosity, critical thinking and self-esteem through an emergent curriculum developed by direct observation of childrens’ play and interactions with the world around them.</span></p>

Beansprouts Nursery School

<p><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-family: Arial; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal;" data-sheets-value="{" data-sheets-userformat="{">Founded in 1980, Beansprouts offers a warm, supportive community in which our classrooms belong to the children. Our teachers serve as guides and mentors, while the children spend their days playing and sharing in a structured environment designed to stimulate their curiosity and build on successful experiences.</span></p>

Williamsburg Northside School

<div class="gmail_default" style="font-family: tahoma, sans-serif;">At Northside, our graduates will be comfortable being uncomfortable, for they’ll recognize that resistance and friction are signals of growth, and they’ll consistently seek out opportunities to expand the definition of who they are. They will be future-ready, able to thrive in challenging situations because they have the confidence and the wherewithal to embrace an ever-accelerating pace of change and adapt accordingly. They will be well on their way to becoming life-long learners that know what happens inside the classroom is a catalyst for the never-ending exploration of what lies beyond the school-house walls. And, most importantly, they’ll be good, decent, and caring human beings that aren’t afraid to show some emotion, that are quick to offer a helping hand, and that recognize that encountering differing opinions and perspectives only makes them stronger.</div> <div> </div>