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» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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Constructive Parent Involvement on the First Day of School: Five Disciplines for Parental Anxiety

By Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

On the first day of school Leila’s mother was still hanging out in the hallway fifteen minutes after her first grade daughter Leila had gone to class. Going up to her I said, “You look anxious.”

“Yes,” she told me sheepishly. “Leila was looking forward to school all summer. Then two nights ago she started getting anxious.”

“What was she anxious about?” I asked. 

“Will my friends be in my classroom, this year?”

All children are ready for first grade, and all children are not ready.

parental involvementThey are ready because they have been facing up to challenges for over 50,000 hours. From striving toward the first out-of-reach rattle to getting a new friend to like you, their life has been about going for it, figuring out how to go for it, worrying if they should even try, doing it anyway, managing the frustration, and sleeping it off. True, they have only been spending about 25,000 waking hours on challenges, but they have been using sleep to reorganize their brains so that they will be better able to face the challenges of tomorrow.

Yes, our children are sufficient to every challenge that they face, and at the same time they are insufficient. Regardless of their capabilities, no amount of preparation eliminates the possibility of failure. They know this, and therefore, whether they show it or not, they are all anxious. Parents are anxious right along with them. Everyone is: teachers and principals, too

But it is not about school; it’s about being human. Humans are amazingly capable, and amazingly inadequate, and on some level each of us knows it. Denial of our fallibility is a primary cause of human failure.

Our performance in a moment of challenge depends largely on the disciplines of facing fear. It’s the same challenge for all—the knowledge that we are actually insufficient to situations we are bound to face.

How can parent involvement be helpful?

1. Make weakness and vulnerability okay. Instead of valuing happiness, success, ability and achievement, parents can establish the expectation that struggle, challenge, mistakes, conflict, disappointment are normal. We can establish effort, resilience, stick-to-itiveness, courage and the strength-of-character-to-admit-you-were-wrong-and-change-your-mind as values. 

2. We accomplish this more by what is in our hearts and minds than by didactic teaching. Therefore, we have to own this definition of worthiness for ourselves. Children pick up the truth about our values more by osmosis and watching us than by recording what we say. They can detect when we are trying to teach them something, and they get suspicious when we try too hard.

3. We could say something like: “You know, the best World Series baseball players bat around 300, that means that even the best major leaguers get on base less than a third of the time, and they strike out a lot.” (I am sure you can invent better age- and culturally-appropriate sayings of your own.) What if Leila heard, “School is supposed to be hard. What would be the point of sending you to a place that didn’t challenge you, …and, duh, I believe in you,” both at home and at school. 

4. Support children with empathy. Say, “I know,” when they tell you how hard it is. Merely being empathetic of a child’s natural tendency to rise to challenge is the main way to strengthen their ability to do it.

5. Find allies within the school. Leila’s teacher might be thrilled to have a parent who is not an achievement fanatic, but a partner in helping her strengthen Leila’s social skills—or whatever the two of you work out together.

As Brene Brown says in her path-finding TED talk: Courage, Compassion, Connection are what make you worthy, not how often you don’t make a mistake. Working together in the interest of a child parents and teachers can rename the game of school from “Maximize Being Right; Hide Being Wrong,” to “Face up to Challenge and Learn.” In this context being vulnerable on the first day of school wouldn't hurt so bad. No child is perfect and every child has a genius. Let's work together to bring out the genius in every child.


Posted on August 22, 2012 by Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with forty-five years of experience working in schools. He has served as head of four independent schools, speaks to parent and school groups across the country and presents at numerous education conferences. Rick is the author of The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity and Creativity in Children and lives in Decatur, Illinois. Visit his blog, The Genius in Children, or follow him on Facebook and  Twitter.

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Permalink   Comments (4)   Send to a Friend

Tags: 2-way communication, *Parent Engagement at Home , Communicating, Gifted , Parents as teachers, Parents in classroom

Posted August 24, 2012 by rick ackerly
Hello, again. I responded on face book, but let\'s talk here.
Second grade will be more of the same and equally not challenging--so if you stay in this same school school will present her with different kinds of challenges. In fact, school is often not the best place to learn academics:e.g Khan Academy, books at home, discussions with you and siblings, etc. 

Posted August 24, 2012 by Mommy Squad
My daughter is unchallenged by first grade curriculum (just as she was kindergarten) what are your thoughts about grade skipping? 

Posted August 22, 2012 by rick ackerly
Thank you. Glad you like it. 

Posted August 22, 2012 by Josette Luvmour, PhD
This is a lovely article, accurate, and such timely advice.  


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