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Is my child doing okay at school?

I have been in education for almost 30 years now and in that time have become familiar with the concerned faces of loving parents asking the question, “Is my child doing okay?” The desire for our children to succeed is innate and our eagerness to support them in this kicks into high gear when they enter the world of school. All of a sudden, spelling tests, swimming competitions and learning to make friends are challenges our children find themselves navigating – all at the same time! So what does success in school look like? Or better yet, what should it look like?

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What does success look like in the classroom?

You know what? You can feel it. When you step into a classroom and see a happy buzz and high engagement, you know your kids are being set up for success. There is great class spirit, the students support each other and build each other up, they appreciate each other’s strengths and differences – and all of this comes together to form a great environment for learning.

The teacher, of course, sets the tone in the classroom and the teacher-student relationship is key. At our school we are intentional about making room in our curriculum for this building of class culture, particularly in the early months of the school year. We allow time to set up routines, atmosphere and environment. The positive effect it has on learning is always worth it.

What does success look like for your child?

It is a common belief that the success of a school-age child is solely reflected in their academic abilities. However, I have found New Zealand parents to hold a pretty unique and special perspective. One of the appeals of Kiwi education is that art, sports and the social aspects of school are just as important as academic achievement and formal assessments.

More and more parents are asking for their whole child to be educated. In fact, when parents say, “My child has had such a good term,” they are often talking about their child’s friendships and growing independence, “They used to be so nervous about walking into the classroom but now they just walk right in.”

In your chats with your child about school, help them frame success by asking some good questions that focus on more than their academic achievement. “What did you enjoy learning today?”, “What are you most proud of?”, “What are your friends’ names?”, “What do you do together at lunchtime?”, “Is there anything you need help with?”

A few ‘success’ markers

Here are a few things I’d like to offer as goals for your children (and us adults too, really) –

  • To be themselves
  • To be responsible for their own learning
  • To know there is no substitute for hard work and to give 100 percent effort accordingly
  • To see the best in everyone
  • To be able to get along with others
  • To have a curious mind and ask questions
  • To think critically about their world and be discerning about information
  • To be creative problem-solvers
  • To discover their real passions and follow meaningful career paths

Remember that success happens over time. I remember sitting in the audience of a performance arts evening as a teacher leaned over to me saying, “Do you remember Lisa when she first came to school? She was nervous and would cry every week. But look at her on stage now – look at how confident she is!”

What can you do to support your child?

Build a relationship with your child’s teacher

I cannot emphasise the home-school partnership enough. In fact, I’d say it is the common factor in all my favourite ‘success’ stories. Stay involved as your kids progress through their school years. I’d like to suggest creating a relationship with your child’s teacher through both formal (parent-teacher interviews, for example) and informal conversations. Those informal conversations could simply look like sending an email to let their teacher know that grandma was in hospital over the weekend and so your child may be a little out of sorts today.

Say no to comparison

Every child is unique and you know your child better than anyone else. Everyone learns differently (including siblings) – at different rates and with different strengths and weaknesses. When kids come to school at five, they each come with certain skills under their belt. Some have gotten really good at putting on their own jumper and doing up a zip. Others have figured out how to use a pair of scissors safely. Some know how to write their own name and others are doing maths seven year olds are doing.

As teachers and parents, it is our job to support our children on their unique learning journeys to help them stay on track to meet achievement benchmarks at school and flourish as little people. Spend time helping with skills they’re finding challenging (like spelling) but also give time to encourage growth in the areas they are naturally good at.

Success is not a one size fits all measure, those days are gone. Today we inspire and encourage children to be themselves, to always strive to conquer their own challenges and excel in their own right. In today’s primary environments we celebrate the unique characteristics of each individual child, accompanying them and facilitating their journey of self-discovery to prepare them to confidently meet the future.


Attend a Toolbox parenting group

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The four Toolbox groups – Early Years (0-6), Middle Years (6-12), Tweens and Teens (12-18) and Building Awesome Whānau (0-12) are available throughout the country. In an informal, relaxed and friendly environment participants are equipped with practical skills and strategies that can be immediately put to use. Over six sessions, key parenting principles are explored and participants are encouraged in their parenting. Find out more and register here.

 

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About Author

Juliet Small

Juliet is the Principal of Saint Kentigern Girls’ School in Auckland. She has taught across all age groups from new entrants to intermediate level at schools in London, Hamilton, Invercargill and Auckland. She has 14 years of experience as a principal in Auckland primary schools and holds a Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Teaching and Post-Graduate Diploma in Counselling Theory. Fun fact - Juliet is also an accomplished violinist, playing with the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for eight years.

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