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Advice from teachers: Starting the year out right

By GEOFF FOX

back_to_school_blackboardWe asked educators to share their best advice with parents on how to start out the year strong and build on that momentum. Here are 10 pieces of great advice to help kick off the 2016-17 school year:

1.  A new school year is a chance for a new beginning. Each year starts fresh with an opportunity for students to put forth their best efforts.

2. Routines are the best way to ensure consistent performance. Structure your child’s day so that he or she can begin to navigate it independently as the year progresses. This includes both morning and evening routines. Make sure your child is up at the same time each morning, has a nutritious breakfast, and gets to school on time. In the afternoon, have a set time for homework, play and dinner as a family. Avoid over scheduling with activities that can interfere with school success. Remember, your child will need support with the homework routine at first, but eventually he or she will be able to work independently. This will allow him or her to develop responsibility.

3. Having the proper school supplies allows students to be ready right away. Make sure you get the supplies as soon as you have the list so that your child has what she or he needs the first week.

4. Keep a positive attitude! After the fun summer experiences and lots of time with friends and family, students may not want to go back to school. There may be separation anxiety, nervousness about a new class or grade level, or simply a hesitation to return to the rigors of classroom learning. Your child will look to you to set the tone for the year. Listen to your child’s fears about returning, then help to alleviate those fears by coming up with solutions. Having a plan will allow children to feel a sense of control over the situation, thereby reducing stress.

5. Teachers are really, really busy. This is true every day of the school year, but this is especially true at the beginning of the year. Certainly reach out with any questions or information, but try to do so via email or written note so that your child’s teacher can process the information and send a thoughtful response, or set an appointment to speak one-on-one with the teacher when class is not in session.  Teachers are working to establish their class routines with the students and get to know them. They want to set the tone now that will allow them to have a successful year, and are also working to start the learning process. Allow your child’s teacher time to get things going before overwhelming him or her with too many concerns. After a few weeks, you will have a better idea of how the classroom works and what the expectations are, and you will be able to ask more specific questions regarding your child’s progress.

6. Look for ways to get involved. Join the PTA. Attend school functions. By being a part of the school community, you are conveying the importance of education to your child. You may not be able to volunteer during the day, but maybe you can help out in other ways, such as the school carnival or the PTA newsletter.

7. Education is a partnership. Be supportive of what your child is doing at school. If you have concerns, reach out to your child’s teacher to find out what can be done to help the situation. Allow your child to suffer the consequences for their actions rather than rescue them. This will help your child to develop a sense of responsibility as well as demonstrate that you and the teacher are both invested in making sure your child is the best she or he can be. Allowing students to fail early on helps them to avoid those same mistakes in the future. Help as needed, but allow your child to grow and learn. Remember, your child’s teacher wants the best for him or her, just like you do.  When you work as a team, it allows your child more opportunity to succeed.

8. Save some time for fun! Nothing quells a child’s enthusiasm for learning more than making it a chore that never ends. Let your child have some free time to do nothing. Encourage outdoor play. Plan family outings that are just for fun. Play games and laugh together. Time away from learning will refresh your child’s mind and help him or her to be ready for more learning and to avoid burnout.

9. An organized room makes for smooth sailing. Now is a good time to clean out closets and drawers and make room for some new school outfits. Have a space for supplies and a place to do homework. Establish chores for your child, such as making the bed and putting toys away each evening. Help your child find a place for everything now so that she or he can do this on his or her own during the school year. Help your child pack his or her backpack before going to bed to allow for an easier morning routine.

10. Let your child know that you love him or her. Show affection for your child each day through hugs or encouraging words. Make sure that even if you have had a stressful day, you give a smile and keep a kind tone of voice. Make it a routine each night for every family member to share something positive that happened in their day. So often we get so wrapped up in adult problems that it bleeds into our interactions with our children. Take some time for yourself every now and then, exercise, and maintain healthy habits. When you are feeling your best, you are better able to care for your child. This year will fly by, so make it a goal to create some happy memories along the way. Your child has a job that is just as stressful to him or her as yours is to you. You are teaching your child to cope with stress through your actions. Help your child know that he or she has your support and love. This will equip your child take on the world, and will allow him or her to understand that each school year, like life, is a journey with bumps that can be overcome with hard work and determination.

 

 

 

 

 

School choice is good for teachers, too, says Step Up President Doug Tuthill

By Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students President

Editor’s note: This commentary originally ran in Education Week.

Pres-Desk_Final resizeWith her recent passing, Marva Collins is being remembered for her glorious educational crusade to turn around the lives of low-income black children in Chicago. It’s also worth remembering how she chose to do this. She cashed in her teacher-pension savings in the 1970s to start her own private school. With it, she combined a no-excuses attitude with high standards, strict discipline, and love—and got amazing results with limited resources.

In other words, Collins was empowered by school choice.

Twenty-five years after Milwaukee put private school vouchers on the map, a majority of states now have some form of private school choice. Just this year, Arkansas created its first voucher program, and Indiana expanded its voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Five states either created or expanded education savings accounts, including Florida, which tripled funding for its program; and Nevada, which spawned the nation’s most inclusive program, available to more than 90 percent of its students.

These opportunities are created, first and foremost, to give parents the power to choose the educational options that are best for their children. But teachers benefit as well, even if the story lines seldom mention them.

As choice expands, teachers will see more opportunities to create and/or work in educational models that hew to their vision and values, maximize their expertise, and result in better outcomes for students. Increasingly, they’ll be able to bypass the red tape and micromanagement that plague too many district schools and serve students who are not finding success. In short, they’ll be able to better shape their destinies, and the destinies of their students.

I should know. I’m a lifelong educator and former teachers’ union president who now heads a nonprofit that administers the nation’s largest private school choice program. I have seen firsthand how all forms of school choice can offer teachers more opportunities to innovate.

My home state of Florida is brimming with examples. In June, ABC’s “World News Tonight” put a national spotlight on a particularly inspiring one: the Human Experience school in Orlando, Fla. Doing their best impression of Marva Collins, teachers Danita Jones and Nathan Smith started the one-class, one-grade, micro-school last fall by pouring in their life savings and getting an assist from tax-credit scholarships. Why the urgency? “If you were standing on the side of the pool and saw someone drowning, would you jump in to save them?” Jones told ABC. “Lack of access to quality education—you might as well be drowning in a pool.”

Florida teachers now have more power than ever to improve access to quality education by creating, leading, and teaching in their own schools. And it’s because no state has done more to expand educational choice. Florida is among the top handful of states when it comes to the number of charter schools and charter school students. It is home to the nation’s biggest tax-credit-scholarship program and the second-largest program of education savings accounts. It has the largest voucher program for students with disabilities and the second-largest pre-K voucher program. All told, these programs of school choice serve about a half-million students.

Florida also now has more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts. Nearly 14,000 of them work in charter schools, which surpasses the public school teaching workforce in nine other states. At the nonprofit I lead, we routinely hear stories of teachers who migrate from district schools to private schools. They’re choosing these options for the same reason parents are—because they offer a better fit for their individual needs.

The world is full of square pegs. As long as public education remains highly centralized, it’s inevitable that somebody’s vision for what is best will be imposed on somebody who bitterly disagrees, and some students who would benefit from one approach will be jammed into another. Decentralization through expanded choice is the best remedy, and not just for students. Some teachers work well with large bureaucracies, some don’t. Choice gives them the opportunity to find or create schools that play to their strengths and interests.

In a growing number of states, pathways are increasing for teachers to do just that. Those who take them are finding a rich landscape where technology and customization are driving diversity. New programs, such as Course Access, give teachers innovative platforms to think out of the box—and out of the schoolhouse. Meanwhile, tools like education savings accounts, better known as ESAs, give parents direct access to all the educational services their children may need, including teacher-run schools. ESAs can benefit teachers and families the way Uber has helped drivers and passengers—by kicking middlemen to the curb.

As this drive for teacher and parent empowerment accelerates, I have no doubt the opportunities for teacher leadership will grow. For the time being, teachers’ unions will continue advocating centralized management systems that use collective bargaining to impose one-size-fits-all solutions. But eventually the unions, too, will evolve and find ways to serve teachers who are thriving in other environments. Instead of uniform salary schedules, for example, they’ll help teachers be free agents, similar to what professional-sports unions have done for their members. Instead of only supporting district-run schools, they’ll help teachers start and manage their own schools.

Like Marva Collins, some passionate and enterprising educators will always find ways to create their own models. But as more states crack open the doors to educational choice, it’s easy to envision an army of Marva Collinses charging through.