From: Bottom Line/Personal, Vol. 19, No. 12, June 15, 1998, pp. 1-2.
Education Plus: Lessons for All Parents from Parents of Top Students
Karen D. Arnold, PhD, Boston College
No matter how busy parents are today, there are ways that they can help their children do exceptionally well in high school.
I recently completed a study of nearly 100 valedictorians around the country, and I found virtually all had received substantial support and encouragement from their parents and teachers.
Here are the lessons that can help any parent...
- Demonstrate the joys of working hard. Valedictorians love to work hard in school, and they relish the resulting rewards and recognition. Many of them openly admire and emulate their parents' hard work. They get a "buzz" when working at the peak of their potential.
What you can do: Tell your child about your struggles and efforts at work or with a hobby or a pastime. Make it clear that accomplishments don't just happen. Express the excitement of tackling creative problems and solving them.
- Cultivate your child's early identity as a good student. The valedictorians I spoke with after graduation knew that they were good students early in life. All said that their families labeled them as good students, and all said they loved hearing their parents brag about them.
Valedictorians from large families basked in the extra attention--and used their achievements to forge identities within their families.
What you can do: Establish a question-friendly atmosphere. Before solving your kids' problems, ask them what they think and work the problems out together.
- Admire persistence and process--not just outcome. Parents need to probe more into the scholastic lives of their children. Career planning can start early if a student develops a passion for a specific subject. Facilitate areas of fascination by placing your child in the appropriate environments.
What you can do: Ask lots of questions--Did you learn anything neat today?...What are you working on in math?...What are you excited about in school these days?
Answers to a few of these questions will give you a sense of the areas that could use your encouragement.
Examples: Perhaps an aspiring musician would like to go to a music camp next summer instead of an all-around camp...or it may help to find a lawyer who can serve as a mentor for a student interested in law.
A teacher or guidance counselor may help you locate someone who can have a tremendous impact on your child's career development.
- Engage yourself in vital school activities and outside interests. Valedictorians' parents are intensely involved. They keep in close touch with the school and drive their kids to after-school programs.
What you can do: Busy parents can't join every committee. But they can take steps to stay involved in key areas and, of course, attend children's performances, debates and athletic events.
- Contact teachers with whom your children are close. They may have great suggestions.
Example: A high school physics teacher raved about his alma mater's annual engineering open house. The parent of one of his students picked up on that and took his daughter to the university. She fell in love with nuclear engineering, and now she is a research scientist.
- Intervene fast when difficulties arise. One disastrous class can ruin a child's attitude toward school as well as his/her grade point average.
Do homework together...buy compelling books on subjects of interest...and speak with teachers monthly--not to blame them but to ask them, What can we do to help?
- Help children work comfortably within the system. Success in school depends on conforming to a system of largely unspoken rules. You have to acknowledge that the rules exist.
The valedictorians loved all aspects of school and had a thorough understanding of how the system worked. They worked efficiently...had a sense of what tests would be like...and knew what teachers expected from them.
What you can do: Explain the consequences of not buying into the system. The trade-offs from doing one's own thing--messy papers, missed deadlines, etc.--include low grades, a low class ranking and low self-esteem.
- Make life attractive outside the party scene. The culture of the party crowd is almost always anti-achievement--except in sports and academic clubs. Many valedictorians found their friends in elective classes or religious groups. Valedictorians rarely drank alcohol--and never used drugs.
What you can do: Expose your children to social alternatives. Encourage diverse friendships. Host alcohol-free parties. Encourage socially conscious volunteer work, backpacking trips and other adventures where independence counts, such as in the arts and in individual--rather than team--sports. Create opportunities for your child to have fun alone so he can look at the peer culture scene and decide whether to take it or leave it.
- Make homework an integral part of the daily routine. Valedictorians are highly organized. They know how to summarize their notes and prepare for tests. When a topic interests them, they follow up independently.
Whether or not they should do their work isn't a daily decision. It would be a major decision not to do it. Most valedictorians have a special place to work--at home or at the library.
What you can do: Provide a desk, an attractive lamp and special supplies. Show a deep respect for the homework routine. Discuss ways to organize the work...to take notes on file cards...and to use the Internet for research.
Be aware of your children's long-term projects, and show continuing interest in how those projects are progressing. If reinforcement is needed, permit socializing and TV only after work has been completed. ____________ Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Karen D. Arnold, PhD, associate professor of higher education at Boston College and director of the Illinois Valedictorian Project, Urbana. She is author of Lives of Promise: What Becomes of High School Valedictorians, Jossey-Bass Publishers/$35.95. ********************************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU