Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gifts for Kids Every Parent Can Afford

The holidays are here and parents are busy shopping for affordable gifts to give their children. This may prove difficult for many families in this tough economy. Whether this is your predicament or not, I hope this message gives you a positive perspective that will inspire you to focus on the important things you CAN give your children.
The fact is, many years from now when your children are grown up, they will remember very few of the things you gave them. The gifts they will remember will be ones that cost no money at all. I have a vague recollection of gifts I received from my parents as a child, even though many were quite nice. How about you? I remember a doll house, a set of puppets, a pogo stick... But the truth is, the best gifts my parents gave me were ones no amount of money could buy. These gifts were ones that helped me develop into a capable adult. What greater good could you gift your own children?
So may I suggest these few simple gifts for your children this holiday season?
Your Time- Families in our culture tend to have very busy schedules, leaving little quality time to spend with each other. During your holiday break take the time to do nothing and ironically you will be doing everything your kids long for. Just hang out, ride bikes, talk, cook a meal, read a book together, laugh... Children these days are hungry for the adults in their lives to take a genuine interest in them. One of my best memories from last Christmas was a long conversation at the kitchen table with our teen daughter Samantha about her dreams to be a doctor. Ask the right questions, listen attentively, and you’ll learn essential things that will help you guide your children to greater success in school and life.
Your Support- Childhood can be a time full of uncertainties; for few things are in children’s control. However, this does not mean that kids must be at the mercy of their unlucky circumstances. Research on resiliency tells us that the children, who thrive, despite overwhelming challenges, are the ones who have strong family support systems. Parents can support their children by taking an interest in their lives, volunteering at their schools, helping with homework, meeting with their teachers, showing up for school events, etc. When children know their families “have their backs,” they are more likely to take risks and try activities that will help them evolve into confident and capable individuals.
Your Experience- Your own life’s journey has taught you many valuable lessons that you can pass on to your children. But you’ll do well to avoid “preaching” to your children. Children are more likely to listen to advice when you focus on telling stories about what YOU learned from your experiences, both good and bad. History does not have to repeat itself. Researchers refer to this as “breaking a negative cycle”. I don’t know of a parent who does not wish for their children to do better in life than they did. You can assure a better life for your children by giving them the benefit of your time, support, and experience.  These are the kinds of gifts that make a difference-- this holiday and every day! 
Wishing Schools and the Families They Serve the Very Best of Holidays!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


           Schools will celebrate National Parent Involvement Day November 17th this year. Great! A special day for promoting parents being more involved in their children’s educations. Count me in! But I’ll be honest; there is a part of me that thinks it a shame there is even a need for a National Parent Involvement “day”. I know many of you share this sentiment…
Why is it the responsibility of educators to motivate parents to be more involved? Why can’t this be something schools can assume will automatically happen? It’stheir children after all, not ours. Shouldn’t it be a given all parents will choose to be as involved as possible? The sad reality is no. Reasons vary (a topic for another column) but that’s why there’s a need a National Parent Involvement “day”.
When I travel to do workshops for schools, I hear educators from all corners of our nation express frustration over the time and effort they put into implementing parent involvement plans only to get disappointing results. I’m listening and I understand!
I want to encourage all of you not to give up! Don’t lose your enthusiasm for promoting parent involvement. Use this special day to remind yourselves that you ARE making a difference, one family at a time!
There are children right now at your school whose parents are MIA. This fact-of-life is not their fault. It is for these children, most at-risk, that you cannot give up the good fight! We all know what the research says about the direct correlation between positive student outcomes and parent involvement. It makes a huge difference. So continue your diligent efforts to create family-friendly schools and to do all you can to get more parents involved, especially those parents who are hardest to reach.
The next time you have only a handful of parents show for a family night; don’t be discouraged more didn’t show. Focus on the ones who did show. Use the small group setting as an opportunity to really get to know individual families. Use the time to build meaningful relationships. If you reach just one family this year and give them the tools they need to help their children succeed long-term, you’ve done a very worthwhile deed! You’ve essentially altered the course of a child’s life and opened up windows of opportunities that were once closed. So let’s be encouraged on National Parent Involvement Day and remember we are making a difference in children’s lives ONE FAMILY AT A TIME!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parent Involvement FALLing Like Autumn Leaves?

            By this time your school year is in full swing.  Autumn paints the landscape deep hues of yellow, red, and orange and leaves begin to fall. Unfortunately parent involvement also tends to fall off after the newness of the school year wears off and calendars get filled with holidays and football games. There are many things educators can do to keep parents from FALLing away from being involved at school. Consider the idioms listed below for inspiration. You’ve heard these words of wisdom many times. Try applying the concepts conveyed to your parent involvement planning and I am confident you will see more families participating all year long:

·         “Variety is the spice of life.”
Sometimes we get into ruts as educators.  We keep doing the same things over and over again because it has worked for us in the past. This predictability can drain parent interest in school events.  So I say, “Out with the old and in with the new!” Start with an interest inventory. Find out what topics and events would be of high interest to parents. Use the data you gather to offer fresh new trainings, family nights, volunteer opportunities, etc. Your faculty will be energized by finding new ways to reach out to parents, and as they say, “Enthusiasm is contagious.” A positive school climate will get the buzz started and that draws families in.  Speaking of buzzing…    
·         “You attract more bees with honey.”
You will motivate more parents to participate if the programs you offer seem appealing and not boring. Perhaps an obvious point, but I continue to see schools offering workshops with mundane titles like, “Improving Student Writing”.  Although it takes more time and effort to plan fun and engaging events, going that “extra mile” pays off big with increased turnout, better feedback, and improved learning. I encourage you to enjoy your work more by weaving some fun into all the educational activities you plan. No excuses. Speaking of which… 
·         “Offering every excuse in the book.”
It’s only human nature for parents to find excuses for not showing up to your after-school events when they’ve just gotten off work and have little energy left for the domestic matters they still must do. Schools can make it easier for parents to attend evening programs by doing such things as providing meals, childcare, and transportation.  When families’ basic needs are addressed, it’s easier for parents to shift their energy to supporting their children’s educational needs. Families will thank you, and…
·         “A simple thank you goes a long way.”
Everyone wants to be appreciated for their efforts. The positive reinforcement techniques you use in your classroom that you learned from your teacher education days can be applied to parent involvement as well. When parents do participate, make sure to acknowledge it and by expressing your appreciation, you ensure every child succeeds. Doing so makes it more likely parents will continue to support your teaching efforts.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Families Feeling "At H.O.M.E." at School

Most educators I know would acknowledge that trying to make families feel welcome at school events is an important thing to do.  When families feel welcome at events such as a Family Night, it is much more likely that they will return in even greater numbers at subsequent family engagement events.  Getting a good turnout is obviously all-important because schools can’t build cooperative relationships with parents if they don’t even show up, right?   
Over the past decade I have visited literally hundreds of different schools all over the country to deliver family workshops.  My experience has given me many insights on what some schools do to make families feel welcome and what other schools do to make families feel unwelcome.  I’m not suggesting that a school would intentionally be un-welcoming.  However, I do believe that some schools forget the importance of making sure they do a few simple things at family events in order to send a clear message that their teachers believe a parent’s role is all-important to a student’s school success.
What “simple things” am I talking about?  Let’s use a real example.  Last week we visited Arizona to deliver a Readers of the Caribbean workshop to families at Peoria Elementary.  Two thumbs up for the staff at Peoria, they got it oh-so-right! Over 225 parents, students, and teachers showed up for their event and the feedback at the end of the night from families was outstanding.  It was obvious that the families felt welcome from the moment they stepped over the threshold of the school’s auditorium door until the time they exited to return home.  I’ll use the acronym “H.O.M.E.” to convey what Peoria Elementary did right:
·   Hello- When families first arrived for the workshop, Peoria teachers and administrators were standing at the door with a friendly greeting.  In fact, they even did it using pirate jargon to go along with the fun theme for the event.  I heard teachers bellowing salutations such as “Ahoy there maties, we’re glad you came!” and “Blimey, if it isn’t the super-duper-Smith family!”  Greeting parents at the door may seem an obvious thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen schools forget to do this simple thing; missing an easy opportunity to set a positive warm tone for the remainder of the event.
·   On-going interactions- Conversations between teachers and parents didn’t stop after the initial hellos.  Throughout the two-hour event I saw many positive interactions such as teachers serving families food, parents and teachers asking each other questions about their children/students, parents being encouraged to actively participate in the workshop, teachers bragging on their students, and families being acknowledged positively by the principal at the end of the night.  All-in-all the entire event had a sense of a big happy school family.
·   Making valuable use of the time- Peoria offered their families a highly engaging rich learning experience.  Parents are hungry to learn practical things they can do at home to help their children do better in school.  Feed them!  Too many family events focus on fun and fall short when it comes to content.  When this happens parents leave feeling their time at school was a waste of time.  My company, Workshops-in-a-Box, believes that it is important to strike the right balance between fun and content so that attention is maintained and the learning curve is accelerated.
·   Exiting farewells- After the Peoria event was over, teachers and parents lingered for a long time.  This is always a positive sign to me.  Positive relationships between schools and families are built over time through on-going conversations.  So the next time your schools plans a family event, make sure you do the simple things to make your families feel “at home” at school.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

H.U.G. a Parent Today!

It's time to go "back to school"! Do your teachers have a specific plan for making families feel welcome?  As we all know, first impressions count and can set the tone for parent involvement for the remainder of the school year.  At your first faculty meeting, consider motivating your teachers with the following 3-minute easy-to-do plan.

“Hello, as the faculty member assigned to promoting parent involvement, I’d like to take a few minutes to give you a simple plan for starting the year off positively with parents.  I challenge each of you to give all of our students’ families a figurative H.U.G. the first week of school to establish the positive rapport necessary for parents being actively engaged across the school year.  When you give or get a hug it feels great, doesn’t it?  Hugs are a way of showing someone you care.  I believe that parents won’t care what we know until they know that we care!  Let’s use the acronym H.U.G. to give us a three-point approach to make a quick telephone call this week to our students’ parents.

·       H- Hello!  Make it a priority to call the parents of every one of your students by the end of the first week of school just to say hello.  Research tells us that the sooner we make the first contact with parents, the better.  Your “hello” should be brief but warm, friendly, and positive! 
·       U- Understand.  During the call, make sure parents understand that you want what they want-- the best educational experience for their child.  When parents feel that you care about their child, they are more likely to care about what you need them to do to support their child’s learning at home.
·       G- Give.  Wrap up your message by giving parents a personal invitation to be a vital part of their child’s education all year long starting with meeting each other in person at your Open House.  Give the specific date and time.  End the call with a sincere “thank you” for entrusting their child to you during the school day and that you look forward to working TOGETHER to make sure their child experiences great success this school year!

           Each call should only take a few minutes to make - with a classroom of 25 children that would equate to each one of us spending about an hour and a half of time on the telephone at most.  Our time investment should pay off in a big way as we will likely see more parents show up for school events, parent-teacher conferences, and so forth throughout the year simply because we took the time to establish a positive rapport the first week of school.  So I encourage you to give lots of H.U.G.s this first week of school!”  

     I hope you’re able to use this idea in leading your faculty to more actively engage families this school year.  Adjust the specifics of the script I provided to best suit your needs and then print the H.U.G. 3-point telephone conversation guide out to give to every teacher.  They can refer to the H.U.G. sheet as they make each phone call.  Thank you for all you do to make your school more family-friendly!   I wish you great success this school year in every regard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

“Helping Your Teen See the Cause-and-Effect Relationship between Rules and Consequences”

Remember the movie “The Breakfast Club”?  The story revolved around a group of teenagers serving detention on a Saturday morning in the library of their high school.  All of the teens blamed their parents or teachers for the punishments they were facing instead of making the connection between their own breaking of rules and the prescribed consequences.  We often see images of rebellious teenagers in movies and on television portrayed in this way because, let’s face it; it’s a common theme many viewers can relate to (teens and parents alike).
If you’re dealing with a teenager who is mad at you for putting him or her on restriction, be assured you’re not alone and take some solace knowing that a little rebellion in a teen is a natural thing.  Why is that so?  Teenagers are sort of stuck in the middle.  They are no longer children, but they are not yet adults either.  The transition from the dependent state of childhood to the independent state of adulthood inevitably proves rocky for many teens and their parents.
Teens often push the boundaries of the rules their parents establish in an effort to speed up their journey towards independence.  But just because some breaking of the rules is a natural byproduct of the growing up process, this doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t respond with appropriate consequences for rule breaking.  We can all agree that it’s in the best interest for our children to learn there are consequences for not following the rules we set up for their own good.  But of course no teen enjoys punishment and that often causes additional conflict between teens and parents.  The teen breaks a rule, the parent gives a consequence, which often angers the teen, and that leads to further conflict.
Although parents can’t make their teens follow the rules 100% of the time, they can apply consequences in a way that reduces the tendency teens have to unfairly blame their parents for their consequences instead of seeing their punishment as a direct result of their own misbehaviors.  This is an imperative realization for teens to learn in order to become productive adults - in a civilized society there are indeed serious penalties for breaking the law. 
How can you make sure your teens clearly see the cause-and-effect relationship between their rule breaking and their punishments?  It’s actually pretty simple- set up clear consequences for breaking any rule BEFORE it is ever broken.  That way, if and when a rule is broken, the consequence comes across as being more “fair” in the eyes of the teen because of the simple fact that he or she knew what the consequence would be before he or she chose to break it. 
Even though this strategy is simple to put in place, I understand it can be tough to follow through and do with teens who just don’t understand that you are not backing down from your high expectations for their own good.  I’ve seen two of my children successfully through to adulthood, but (gasp) I still have two more to guide through the rocky teen years.  My point is -we’re in this all together.  It’s my hope we can give each other support and encouragement through my Parent Professor Blog.  Let’s not just survive being parents of teenagers; let’s thrive by making the most of the good times and minimizing the hard ones.