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Making a Good Start to the New School Year

August, 2009
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  You have chosen the school for your children. Now, how to make sure you and your child get off on the right foot for the new academic year? Stumbling in the first weeks of school can negatively affect attitudes and relationships for the whole school year and even muddy feelings for years to come. So how can parents ensure they have done the maximum to get themselves and their children off to a good start? Well, while your child is preparing for the three “R’s” you can work on the three “C’s”: Collect, Connect and Contribute.

  Collect as much hard and soft information on the school as possible. You should have received the hard information in the form of the parent handbook containing the school’s mission statement, philosophy, fee schedules, dress and discipline codes, telephone numbers and email addresses. You may have also received a student handbook with policy concerning much of what is in the parent handbook along with more detail on homework policy, plagiarism, use of telephones and other electronic media including school computers.cis-orient-4
  Ask for a description of the courses or yearly topic plan your child will be following. Be sure to get the calendar for the academic year. For the upper grades remember that most testing and project completion deadlines are just before the breaks. This will help you plan your holidays and allow you to stay on top of your child’s use of time. If there is a scheduling conflict most teachers are flexible if they know in advance. Be sure you have their email addresses.
  Parents and students should read and discuss school policy. Make sure your child is aware of the opportunities the school offers and the consequences for not following the rules.  Be sure you have an easily accessible file for all school documents and communications and keep it up to date. If your children are old enough make it their responsibility to put newsletters and permission slips on the dining room table or under the refrigerator magnet.
  Check the school website too. It contains the latest updates. There are other websites containing soft information, opinions, and gossip about your school. Most cities in China with a substantial expat community have a local expat website. Check it to see what other parents and the school administration have to say. Google the name of the school and you may be surprised by its footprint on the web.
  Once you have collected and understood school policy, organization and offerings discuss these with your child. This is a learning opportunity in organizational structure and management. This also eliminates the opportunity for “I didn’t know”. Now that you all have a good grasp don’t be surprised if it changes.  Change happens faster in the expat world and this is evidenced in the more frequent turnover in school administrators and in teachers. With each new administrator comes new policy and practices. The handbooks you have been given may be a product of the outgoing administration and may be amended during the school year to be in sync with the new head of school.
  Start connecting with the people at your school.  Start with the school head.  No matter what you read or hear about the head nothing replaces a face to face meeting. This is what will really stick with you as your impression of the competency and sincerity of the administration. Heads look forward to friendly meetings with parents and it will break the ice and make future contact much easier. Administrators need input from constructive parents and look forward to building bridges to the community. After all, you are the school’s customer.bwya-orient-family
  A friendly introductory email in the beginning of the year makes sure that your child’s teachers have your email address and know you are concerned. It also promotes a rapport between you and the teachers and creates a positive attitude on the part of the teacher towards your child. Don’t underestimate the power of bringing an “apple” to the teacher. Teachers, like anyone else, need to know they are appreciated. An inexpensive but well chose gift (teachers love sweets) are just one way for you to manage your relationship with someone who could become one of the most influential people in your child’s young life.
  Don’t wait until the scheduled parent-teacher conference to meet your child’s teachers. Either set up an appointment or just drop in for a brief hello at the end of the school day. Remember that most teachers have meetings or after school activities but a quick stop just to introduce yourself and say “hi” helps to establish a rapport.
  If your child has special learning needs be sure to let their teachers know and meet with the special education teachers. Many parents have an inkling that their child might have a learning difficulty but hesitate to confirm it through testing. If this is the case, do your child and yourself a favor and get your child tested, especially in the early years. Early identification and remediation will have exponential returns in performance, self-image and overall wellbeing.
  If your child has an interest in sports, music, drama, visual arts or any of the numerous activities schools offer today meet with the coach or instructor and let them know of your child’s interest and tell them you appreciate what the instructor is doing. These are often the areas that hold the most interest for the student as they can choose them; they have an important social element and usually don’t have homework. These are often activities in which students learn life skills such as decision making and develop leadership skills. If your child’s teacher knows you and knows you are following your child’s progress they will give your child just that little extra attention that may make the difference from your child feeling like one of the herd or someone special in the class.
  Now is your opportunity to get involved and contribute. Ask yourself what you have to offer the school. Do you like reading to children? Do you have musical skills? Can you help with stage décor, or provide assistance on field trips or camping expeditions? Can you help out in the library, canteen food committee, help with fund raising activities, get involved in the parent committee, substitute teach, or show your business facilities? There are numerous opportunities to be a part of the team. Once you have identified what you would like to do decide how much time you want to give and make a commitment. Take out the calendar and see when reading week is, international day, sports day and let the responsible person know that you would like to help.dcsh-orient
  All of this sends a message to your child that you care about his or her education and that you know what is happening with the people your child is talking about. If a problem does develop at school it is much more likely you will get honest answers from your child and you will be in a better position to judge what is going on. No more “the teacher just doesn’t like me”.
  Getting involved in school activities is a great way to meet other interested parents in your community, get to know the children your student is associating with and contribute to your community as a whole.
  It’s not too late to make a positive impact on the next nine months of your child’s education. Begin collecting the information, contact the people who will be working with your child and get to know them, and then find ways to contribute to your school and become a part of your child’s learning community.
  Have a great year!
By Patrick Donahue
You can contact the author at sebalex.x@gmail.com


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