Getting back on track

What does a parent do when their child brings home a report that points to a lack of effort and progress? It is a worrying concern. Usually, the report sums up what parents have already observed during the term and what is reported to them in emails from teachers concerned about draft submissions, test preparation, incomplete homework and a disorganised approach.

Heads of House and I meet to discuss every student’s report and we forge new plans for those most in need of a boost. We meet with the kids and parents to set new targets and to discuss better approaches to their study. The aim is to make students more accountable and lock them into after school study sessions and supervised study lessons. The idea is to build momentum and generate some immediate success and trust that translates to commitment that is more independent.

Does all this work?

It can – but only when the same sort of action is also happening at home. There are a number of steps a parent can take to help refocus their children. Helping them to build that all-important momentum, and generate greater responsibility for their learning.

  1. Set a solid routine for study at home. Block non-negotiable times before and after dinner.
  2. Map out each week of study using a scheduler like Outlook Calendar. This requires a meeting of 30 minutes between the parent and child on a Sunday before the working week begins to not just look at the week ahead but also truly prepare for it.
  3. Remove the phone completely during these study periods. Study should not in front of the TV.
  4. Use CANVAS to identify what tasks and homework has been set. If parents are still unsure, they can email teachers directly. CANVAS is an effective form of continual communication for both students and parents and further supports students in their study.
  5. Plan to communicate with the Head of House after a month of schooling to ask about progress.
  6. Set a goal for each five-week block of raising effort grades. Do not only focus on the academic performance. If students increase their effort at school, they will be successful academically. You can email teachers and ask what they think is the current effort rating for your child.
  7. Reward improvement. Student and parent decide together what that reward will look like. Stagger the rewards, so small gains get smaller reward and the long-term goals, if reached, earn greater benefit. This does not really act as a motivator but more so as a way of showing that both parent and child really value doing well at school.
  8. Regularly, over dinner, parents should ask specific questions about their child’s learning. If parents are truly riding the educational journey then they will know about the test on Thursday or the practical write-up on cells, which is due on Friday, and therefore the questions can be targeted. “How was school today” is too open-ended!
  9. Discuss any learning problems with children. Unearth if there are obstacles that are blocking confidence. Please also share and of these obstacles with Home group teachers or Heads of House. Providing that understanding and empathy is crucial.
  10. Play an active role if you can in helping with homework and revision. You do not need to be an expert in the subject to be a great aid!
  11. Identify a mentor in a student’s life that is able to, on timely occasions, spend some time talking about school, learning and can encourage commitment.
  12. Engage with the future. Talk about careers and aspirations. This generates excitement and appetite for seeking opportunities.

Consistent, persistent hands-on intervention at home never fails. If you need proof, I can tell you know that the students who are generating plenty of success at school right now have all the listed things also happening at home.

If that school report was disappointing then do not get drawn into the need for a big conference with your child where your demands for improvement are accompanied by threats of what will happen if the socks are not pulled up! This will usually only have a short-term impact. It is best to lay down a concrete plan via the steps above!

Do not hope for action – plan for it. In that plan, ensure you are in the thick of it. Implement these ideas and the days of receiving a modest end of term report will become ancient history!

Richard Anderson

Deputy Principal and Head of Senior School