Greetings on auspicious occasions range from a quiet hello to a standing ovation. For your family, a child starting or returning to school requires feats of readiness and coordination. Give yourself some applause!
How about paying it forward? Your child’s teacher is about to shape him for the next one hundred eighty days or so, for six to seven hours a day. That’s a lot of time and a lot of learning–especially when you consider it’s a serious part of building your child’s future. You will be a large presence during your child’s growth and as you know, good home-school communication is critical support for your growing child.
I’d like to pass on some observations I’ve made over the years about parents and the first day of school. I’ve seen some parents help to establish a pleasant and open relationship with a teacher by making these friendly gestures:
- A handmade card by your child that introduces him and says what he hopes to learn.
- Alternatively, a note from you and your partner thanking the teacher in advance and saying you look forward to work with her.
- A small bunch of flowers–from your garden, if possible.
It doesn’t matter what you send in, because as with all gracious gestures, it’s the thought that counts. Your child will notice your effort, too–what better way to model and reinforce manners?
Diligence. Patience. Perseverance. Every teacher and parent wants children to develop these qualities. Aside from urging students to complete their work, just how is it done?
Consider parent William Mitchell, a father of ten. He loved astronomy and expected his children to assist him—as part of their education—as he observed the sky at night. He showed them how to use a telescope to sweep the sky, observe, take notes, and record measurements. As a result, two of his children, Maria and Henry, developed interests in science. Henry went on to a career as a hydrographer and helped found the National Geographic Society.
And Maria? She discovered a comet at age twenty-nine, became the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, and is acknowledged as the first professional woman astronomer in the United States.
Maria Mitchell thrived in a home in which parents prized learning. It took years of diligent study of math and patient observation of the sky until she discovered Comet Mitchell. Later in life, she wrote that she never forgot the one-on-one time with her father on the roof walk as they observed the sky together.
Children thrive when their parents share their interests, spend time with them, and teach them. Parents don’t need to have all the answers, either; for example, when William Mitchell had taught Maria all the math that he could, he found her a more advanced teacher.
We don’t need to be experts in astronomy to learn from the sky, nor must we expect our children to make fantastic discoveries. But observing the night sky often is a terrific, family-friendly field trip. It teaches our children that there are infinite worlds for exploration and discovery.
Want to know the best way to involve parents? Send home good news about their child before the first week is out.
And there’s no better way than to have students write it themselves. With writing now taught across the curriculum, every teacher can do it. Even if you only have fifteen minutes, it’s time well spent:
- 3 min. Create a writing rubric. What do your students think matters in a quality letter home? Find out what they know and evaluate what they need to know. Keep it simple–it doesn’t need to be a forever rubric.
- 2 min. Speed-brainstorm 2 lists of topics. What new learning did students accomplish? Looking forward, what goals do they want to work on? Keep new learning and goals specific.
- 10 min. Students write. Make copies to keep on file OR ask parents to sign and return them.
Afterward, send an email home to let parents know that good news is on its way!
The benefits? Your first message home is student-generated, positive and specific. Parents become involved in the conversation about their child. Also, this lesson is naturally differentiated. Students practice using rubrics, noting what they do well, and setting goals. You wind up with the best kind of writing assessment piece–one that is organic and personal.
For students’ inspiration or reward, listen to Sam Cooke’s fabulous song Ain’t That Good News on American Bandstand in 1964. The song is about two and a half minutes; in the interview afterwards, he tells Dick Clark that he uses “observation…to observe what’s going on…to write something that people will understand.”
It worked for his songs and it’ll work for your students.