Last weekend's USA Weekend (the one in our local Sunday paper) included an article entitled "Your A+Back-to-School Action Plan". I found many of the suggestions to be a good annual check-up for education specialists as well. The author, Peg Tyre, makes the following suggestions:
- "Make contact with teachers by Week 3." Hopefully, we already have open lines of communication with our families. Even so, back-to-school is a good time for a refresher; check-in with your families and evaluate whether there are any families with which you don't have good communication. If so, what can you do to try to improve it?
- "Check that your child is reading at grade level." While our students may not be reading at grade level yet, we do need to regularly check each student's progress. We have to make sure that our individual intervention plan is helping the student to demonstrate expected growth. If not, it's time to modify our plan.
- "Understand the importance of downtime." I know that I find the need to take an occasional mental break, especially during a particularly challenging task. Recent research on the brain indicates that dyslexic students exert at least 4-5 times as much energy during reading as non-dyslexic students. Students who are working this hard must have an occasional mental break, so recognize the value in playing a quick game or reading a poem or a few pages from a story.
- " Analyze test scores". In this, Tyre suggests that parents look at the overall school philosophy; are they all about test prep activities or are they focused on "helping kids understand, analyze and write about complex subjects"? This, too, should be our focus.
- "Stay on track for college". My first thought was to skip this tip, but we are preparing our students for college and/or careers. How? By empowering these students to be self-motivated active learners; the most important skills they need to be successful in college or a career.
- "Don't trash-talk about math", or any other subject. Recent brain research reinforces what we have often told students; you can do anything you set your mind to doing. If we can show a student success in an area that has been challenging, like reading, the student can build on that success. Similarly, we have to be very careful that our students do not develop negative associations with learning; those negative associations are just as powerful as the positive ones, if not more so.
- "Be part of the learning community". How are parents involved with your work with their students? Are they empowered to assist with the work you are doing with their students? Similarly, are you continuing your own education through classes, workshops or conferences to demonstrate to the students your own commitment to learning?
An annual review of your program will help you stay on track. Back-to-school time can be a good reminder for that review.