Think for a moment—or longer: Are your children learning what they should be learning at school? Are they happy and productive? Sometimes parents perceive a mismatch between a child’s needs and the education they’re receiving. Finding a suitable “fit” between a student and the school system can be problematic. An effective plan requires thoughtful decision-making and collaborative effort on the part of many people—parents, teachers, administrators, consultants and, of course, the child.
To ensure children’s best possible development both at home and at school, parents have to be attuned to what occurs in their children’s day-to-day lives, and this includes listening attentively to what they have to say about their schooling. Don’t just ask, “How was school today?” Instead, inquire about their experiences—what they learned, what they enjoyed, what they found challenging, what they’re going to investigate further, and why.
Parents also have to stay connected with teachers. Don’t even think about hovering or interfering, but do keep in touch when and if required. Parents who work toward strengthening communication networks between home and school are better positioned to help their children succeed. This is because the most effective program is a result of teamwork, respectful discourse, and mutually developed expectations. However, each learning environment has its own particular dynamic and mix of goals, courses, materials, advantages, and drawbacks. So the “fit” between any one child and the learning opportunities is always in flux, and should be monitored. This might involve renewed decision-making about placement options, including combining program elements, modifying instruction, or adjusting challenge levels, as required. And, sometimes things need to be shaken up a little.
This is where advocacy comes in. Change doesn’t just happen—it’s a process that takes planning, time, and effort, not to mention diplomacy. With that in mind, here are some useful advocacy tips for parents:
Advocacy is like bridge-building. A strong bridge sustains, a weak one wobbles. When thinking about how to improve your child’s fit with the system, you’ll have to consider multiple points of view (for example, those of teachers, administrators, consultants, and the individual student). Their outlooks and agendas might not align with yours. Maintain your resolve (you know your child!) but realize that there are many people involved in your child’s education. Collaborate. Listen carefully to what others have to say. Be patient. Keep records.
Make Positive Change
Change does not always come quickly. Nor is it prudent to try and change too many things at once. Prioritize. Figure out what specific and recognizable needs you want met, and then be practical and realistic about what can be altered.
Take your Time
Whether it’s January, June, or any time in between, don’t rush in like a brushfire out of control in the woods. Remember that a school community is a complex and interdependent place. If you want to nurture productive relationships and a climate of trust, then pacing, mutual respect, and flexibility are integral. When thinking about change for your child, try to develop a reasonable step-by-step action plan, a sensible time-line, and workable parameters for all those involved.
Pay close attention to material that pertains to what you hope to resolve—whether it has to do with curriculum issues, classroom settings, challenge levels, or other concerns. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make your efforts targeted and effective.
Remember, working toward change is often an emotion-laden process. Stress, optimism, pessimism, confusion—people may have different feelings, and different experiences along the way. Successful advocacy efforts are characterized by ongoing sensitivity toward others, support and encouragement, open communication channels, and free-flowing dialogue. Keep working and generating momentum.
Parents can develop strong home and school links, and be staunch advocates, but children also have an important responsibility to co-create their learning, making it relevant, and connecting it to their own lives. Parents can teach their kids to be fair-minded, respectfully assertive, and to recognize how their own behaviour can contribute to their problems—or advancement—at school. Children have the power to use their interests and strengths as springboards to new and exciting learning ventures. It’s best when parents and educators work together, offering support toward meaningful and appropriately challenging learning opportunities, so that children are happy and productive.
Joanne Foster is an educator at OISE/University of Toronto, and co-author (with Dona Matthews) of the award-winning Being Smart About Gifted Education, 2nd Edition. She presents at conferences across North America, writes articles on a range of topics for parents and educators, and offers consultation to schools. Visit Dr. Foster online at www.raisingsmarterkids.net.
For more information, see the award-winning Being Smart about Gifted Education, 2nd Edition (2009) by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, published by Great Potential Press. Or, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net
This article was published in the January 2013 issue of Kids Post/Post City: www.postcity.com