Changing the Focus for School Success

Changing the Focus for School Success

“School success” and whether children view themselves as “smart” and “not smart” seems to depend solely on grades received, but what about all the other areas where students shine that aren’t reflected on the report card? What about the student who struggles academically but is the most creative thinker in the class? What about the student who struggles academically, but is the kindest student, incredibly artistic, or an amazing athlete or musician? What about the one who is a natural leader or the one who is most reliable and helpful? Most importantly, what about the one who always puts forth their best effort and works harder than everyone else but still doesn’t get the best marks? Why don’t those students generally feel successful and how can we change that?

Focusing less on marks and more on the journey of learning is a good place to start. I’ve always told my own children and the students in my class that if they get an ‘A’ and didn’t study it is not very impressive. That likely means the student is naturally good at that subject and likely already knew the material if they can get that kind of mark without any effort – lucky them. For me, it is much more impressive to get a ‘C’ (or any mark for that matter) if they studied, practiced, and put in their best effort. The journey is what we celebrate, not the result. Obviously it’s extremely disappointing to get a ‘C’ if a student worked so hard and tried their absolute best, but if that’s the case then at least we know where there are still gaps in the learning and we can keep working on those areas to improve.  Children should still feel successful if they’ve put in the hard work regardless of the result.

Some suggestions on changing the focus by encouraging a child to pursue their talents at school and outside of school in order to feel successful:

  1. If a child is an artist, label them as such and get them into art class. Encourage them to join the art club at school, enter contests and volunteer to help with creating drama sets or school art projects. Talk to the school about getting them to promote and encourage this talent. Same holds true for musicians, actors, singers, photographers or any of the arts discipline.
  2. Highlight and celebrate other attributes besides marks. If you notice your child is always kind to others, point that out and celebrate that trait. Encourage them to start a friendship club at school or a random act of kindness club. Comment on their talent to make other people feel included and cared for and foster that natural and important ability.
  3. When you see leadership skills developing in your child, ignite that spark. Encourage them to lead their class/school in a project, activity or fundraiser. Perhaps they can join student council and encourage them to find leadership opportunities both within and outside of school.
  4. If your child is a master debater and can win every argument, why not encourage them to start a debate club at school or outside of school? Tweaking that potentially exhausting skill into something very productive and successful could be a win-win for all.
  5. Why not encourage your athletic super start to join the school teams and celebrate those accomplishments the same way we would celebrate high marks. Maybe they’d be interested in starting a healthy, active living club at school or start a sports club that doesn’t yet exist.

Hopefully you get the point. Find the abilities and let them shine. Perhaps then, they will feel as successful as the students who are lucky enough to get all A’s. When we light up ABILITIES, there are endless POSSIBILITIES.

Habits of Homework

Happy New Year! As we head back to school, after a much needed break from everyday routines, it’s the perfect time to reflect on homework habits. Whether or not we like or even value homework, it is an inevitable part of most children’s lives who attend mainstream school. For some, it is also a source of tremendous frustration and family battles. But it doesn’t have to be. Homework is what I consider a non-negotiable, in other words, it is part of a student’s responsibilities and must get done. What is negotiable, however, is how much time is spent on homework and how to communicate struggles about homework with the teacher. Negotiate what that means with your child ahead of time. Discuss how much time is reasonable to be spending on homework each night. If you decide that a child in grade 3 should be spending 30 minutes on homework and a child in grade 6 should be spending 60 minutes on homework then try and set up a schedule that accommodates that. If there is a sincere, focused, targeted time spent on completing the homework, then it is okay to write a note to the teacher saying that your child worked on the homework for a specified amount of time and got this much accomplished. It’s valuable for the teacher to know how long things are taking and what is being understood. Here are some tips to eliminate the struggles of homework and to start developing healthy homework habits.

    1. Set up a homework friendly environment – this space should be free of distractions and free of clutter. It should contain all the materials needed to complete homework including pencils, erasers, rulers, paper, computer and anything else a child might need.
    2. Use a timer – if homework is a struggle, have your child set a timer and enforce focused, purposeful homework time. That means the timer stops if the child gets up for a snack, uses electronics or becomes distracted in any way. The timer can also be used in shorter increments with breaks built in. For example, two thirty minute blocks as opposed to a one hour block.
    3. Same time every day – as much as schedules allow, it is best to get in the habit of doing homework at the same time each night. This becomes part of their daily routine and fewer fights occur when it’s a daily expectation. If there is no assigned homework, a student can always read, practice math facts, write a story, do a science experiment, cook, play an instrument, do art, build or play an educational game (to name a few ).
    4. Promote independence – the older children get the more independent they should become in knowing what is for homework and getting started on their own. If a child cannot do homework independently (at least in part) then the teacher needs to be aware that the homework is too difficult and adjustments should be made.
    5. Praise effort and progress – reinforce positive work ethic and habits. Praising efforts highlights the journey of learning and places less emphasis on the results. It is much more impressive to achieve high marks as a result of hard work than it is to receive high marks simply because it is an easy concept for a child.
    6. Chunk homework into manageable tasks with time frames – this means having an organizational system that helps the child to see what to do first, second and third and how much time each task will take. It can look something like this:

 

    • Math sheet – 10 minutes
    • Read paragraph – 5 minutes
    • Answer 3 questions – 10 minutes

 

 

 

No one said it is always going to be easy, but with consistency, negotiated expectations and a positive outlook, homework can run smoothly. If you need help managing homework expectations or setting up habits in your home, feel free to give me a call at 613-316-6457 or visit my website at www.possabilities.ca to book an appointment.

 

 

 

School Progress Reports – Next Steps

School Progress Reports – Next Steps

November is progress report month in many schools. This is typically the first formal communication on a child’s progress this school year. For some, it is a time of relief in discovering a child is progressing well, working at grade level and moving forward as expected. For others, the November progress report can invoke a feeling of stress and concern if a child is not progressing as expected. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on the latter scenario.

This time of year is about next steps. It is still early enough in the school year, that a lot of positive changes can be put in place if a child receives an unexpected progress report.

  1. Communicate concerns at parent-teacher conferences. The goal of this meeting should be to come up with a collaborative plan on putting steps in place to improve learning based on comments from the report. For example, if the progress report suggests difficulty starting work independently, then the conversation needs to be about how to support that child in becoming more independent in the future. Here is a reminder of a blog from August about how to communicate positively with teachers. https://ottawacapitalregion.macaronikid.com/articles/59a483598c16451afeb37d59/tips-for-fostering-positive-communication-between-home-and-school
  2. Try to pin point the root of the problem in order to work on solutions for change. Analyzing issues to understand what is at the core of the problem is important. For example, if the progress report suggests the child struggles with Math concepts, then try to pin point what area of Math is difficult. Perhaps it is a struggle with word problems, basic facts or fractions. Narrowing down the struggle can result in purposeful remediation either at school or at home. If the comment is about having difficulty listening to the teacher, then try and find out if it is because the child does not understand, is distracted by a neighbour or is sitting at the back of the room.
  3. Advocate for resources and supports if you think something is lacking. It is within a parent’s right to request additional services at school if a child is not thriving. Perhaps an IEP (Individual Education Plan) needs to be put in place or revised to add accommodations or modifications to assist the learning. Maybe a Learning Support Teacher (LST) or Learning Resource Teacher (LRT) can be brought into the conversation to enhance supports.
  4. Talk to your child. Find out from his/her point of view what is going well at school, what is challenging and what they feel could change in order to improve. Empowering a child to be their own advocate and to be part of the process of getting help is a great strategy for implementing positive change. Always focus on, and highlight strengths and use those strengths to tackle challenges.
  5. Get help now. There are a lot of ways to seek help if the progress report is disappointing. In addition to getting additional resources within the school, sometimes outside resources can be helpful. (Pricy I know, but perhaps worth the investment if finances allow for it).
  • Meet with a psychologist about the possibility of getting a psycho-educational assessment done if a learning disability or attention issue is suspected (a school psychologist can do this too as long but there will likely be a wait time).
  • Hire a tutor to assist in areas of need.
  • Hire an organizational coach if Executive Functioning skills are lacking.
  • Read books – there are so many exceptional resources available to parents on all kinds of school related issues.

If your child is struggling at school and you feel you need help or support with any of these suggestions, please feel free to give me a call at 613-316-6457. As always, please remember that when we light up ABILITIES, there are endless possibilities.

 

Why is my Child so Disorganized?

Your child’s room looks like it was struck by a tornado. Your child’s school bag is filled with crumpled papers that never seem to have a proper place. Your child rarely knows if he has homework or when it’s due. Your child can’t remember the list of instructions you gave him to take a shower, brush his teeth and get in his pajamas. Your child tells you at 9:00 on Sunday night that he needs new shoes for gym the next day.

By contrast, your other child has a meticulously clean bedroom and his school bag is neat and organized with every paper in its proper spot. That child runs upstairs to do homework without ever being asked or reminded and always knows when everything is due. He follows directions with ease and wouldn’t dream of being unprepared for gym class.

Does any of this sound familiar or strike a nerve? What is the cause of this drastic difference? Some would argue personality, others would argue maturity and although these certainly can be contributing factors, the weakness lies in something called Executive Functioning Skills. These skills allow us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Executive functions are controlled by a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex so there may be a neurological reason as to why a child is struggling with these tasks.

We would never be frustrated with a child who had difficulty seeing the board at school or tell them to just try harder to see. We go to the eye doctor and get them glasses. If a child struggled with Math, we would not be upset with the child, we would teach them strategies and give them tools in order to help them succeed. The same is true for working with a child with weak executive functioning skills. No child is trying to be disorganized, forgetful and oblivious to deadlines. It is our job as parents to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of our individual children and help guide, coach, support and give them tools to help compensate.

Here are some tips to help a child with poor Executive Functioning Skills:

  1. Give one instruction at a time. Have the child repeat back the expectation. Break complex tasks down to manageable chunks.
  2. Provide visual cues to set up routines and habits with short, concrete instructions. For example, the visual card for bedtime routine might have a picture of a shower, a picture of a toothbrush and a picture of pajamas.
  3. Be patient, and build in time for practice. Clean his room with him and make it part of the daily routine every day until he can do it on his own and it becomes a habit. Make sure he understands where everything needs to be when you ask him to clean up.
  4. Strategize with the teacher to put in systems at school for communication, homework and due dates.
  5. Make daily checklists and use an organization system like a calendar or agenda to prioritize daily responsibilities.
  6. Acknowledge this is difficult for your child, support them and reward them when you see positive changes and effort.
  7. Read as much as you can on Executive Functioning Skills and help your child understand why these areas are difficult for him.

If you need help understanding Executive Functioning Skills or needs assistance in helping your child become more organized, feel free to give me a call to set up an appointment at 613-316-6457.

Tips for Fostering Positive Communication between Home and School

Parents sometimes find it difficult to know how much and when to communicate with teachers at school. I advocate for strong, positive, purposeful and open communication. I also think it’s important to try and encourage and help a child advocate for themselves first before a parent steps in to help. Here are some tips on how to keep communication positive, ongoing and healthy.

  1. Approach all communication as allies – If you work under the premise that you are all working toward achieving the same goal, which is to help your child succeed, you will have more luck communicating positively. All conversations should be approached with the assumption that you and the teacher are allies, working together. It is important to lower the walls and to go into all conversations with the mindset of working together. Even if you don’t agree with everything the teacher says, communicating in a respectful, non-confrontational, non-threatening way will lead to more amicable results. Show appreciation for their time and for taking your concerns seriously.
  2. Address specifics – Communicate with a purpose and with a specific goal in mind. It is very important not to be reactive but to communicate once you’ve really thought about what the issue might be. Understand your reason for initiating a conversation, and think about what you are hoping to achieve from the conversation. Take some time to understand the problem, looking at it from different perspectives. Think of flexible and multiple solutions you can present that are realistic and achievable before approaching the teacher.
  3. Listen to all sides before making assumptions – It is easy for “mamma bear” or “daddy bear” to surface quickly when a child comes home unhappy or stressed from school. Sometimes our instinct is to jump in and try to “fix” the problem very impulsively. It is important to gather all the facts and information before approaching teachers with “guns a blazing.” It is important to initiate the conversation with a teacher by stating your child’s concerns and then asking the for their input, feedback and perspective of the situation. Sometimes that might mean giving the teacher some time to investigate the problem and letting them get back to you later to discuss the issue from all perspectives.
  4. Be proactive – Start communicating as soon as there is an issue worth addressing. Don’t let incidences build before approaching the teacher. Nipping small issues in the bud right away often diffuse situations from escalating. That said, judge what situations warrant you being involved. It is important to let children sort out minor incidences on their own as it is part of growing up and becoming resilient. Find out the best way to communicate with each teacher and use their preferred method. Some teachers like email, some prefer phone and others use the agenda. Be flexible with how and when you communicate and give teachers time to respond.
  5. Work together in collaboration – Make it clear to the teacher that you are willing to do your part at home to support and enhance whatever issue is happening at school. Teachers will be more willing to help when they know that you as the parents are also doing your part at home to support your child. Your child should always know you are working with the school in partnership to address all issues. Your child should never think that you are going in to “fix” a problem or that there is a negative feeling toward the staff at the school. Older children should be part of the process and conversation to help problem solve issues that arise.

Keeping a positive, open mindset with your child’s teacher will go a long way in advocating for your child and getting the results you are hoping for. Never speak negatively about your child’s teacher in front of your child, even if you feel frustrated. If you feel you need support in communicating with your child’s teacher in a positive and healthy manner, it is one of the services I offer. Sometimes it is helpful to have an advocate who is not emotionally attached to the situation. I can be reached at 613-316-6457 if you’d like to discuss further.

Should I Get My Child Tested?

In my opinion, all students have the right to feel successful in the classroom. With the proper resources and supports in place, every child should be given the opportunity to shine. It is heartbreaking to watch a child struggle day in and day out in school when it’s a place they have to attend every single day for 14+ years. When parents start to worry about how their child is doing in school, one of the questions that may arise is if and when they should have their child tested. This means bringing a child to psychologist to have a full psych-educational assessment done to evaluate cognitive, academic, attention, memory and social abilities. It is often an overwhelming and emotionally charged decision and sometimes parents are unsure whether the cost of the assessment is indeed beneficial. Here are some questions to consider before making the decision to test a child.

  1. Is your child falling behind or struggling in school academically and/or socially?
  2. Is your child verbalizing that school is too hard or they don’t feel successful in the classroom?
  3. Is homework a struggle and taking far longer than it should?
  4. Is your child resisting reading and writing?
  5. Is your child disorganized and lack executive functioning skills?
  6. Has your child’s teacher mentioned they are concerned or did they receive an unexpected report card?
  7. Is your gut feeling that your child’s academic performance is not matching their potential?
  8. Is your child very anxious or reluctant to go to school or do homework?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, there is a strong likelihood that an assessment will help your child succeed at school. The purpose of an assessment is find out why your child may be struggling at school, and then offers suggestions and recommendations on how to improve their performance in the classroom. The assessment is the first step to acquiring a useful IEP (Individual Education Plan) for your child that is purposeful and individualized to addressing your child’s specific needs. Assessments are without a doubt extremely costly. Some school boards offer the service but the wait times are often long so getting your name on that list sooner than later is advised. If you have insurance, or can afford the cost, it is my recommendation that you get a private assessment done. A proper assessment is a useful tool to help parents, teachers and the student themselves understand how they learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are and what modifications or accommodations are necessary to implement in order to improve success in the classroom. If you would like a list of psychologists who provide this service, feel free to contact me at sharonreichstein@gmail.com

 

Transitioning to Summer

Although it’s hard to tell from the crazy weather that summer is upon us, it is here. For most children, that is great news as they look forward to less structure and more freedom. But for some children, the lack of structure, predictability and routine is extremely stressful and the transition to summer can make them feel quite anxious. Many of us are creatures of habit and feel calm when we know what to expect. Our children are no different and some handle transitions better than others. Here are a few tips to help anxious children transition to summer.

  • Visual Schedules can help children see what is happening each day or each week. These can easily be done on white boards, printed out or simply written on a piece of paper. Children tend to handle change better when they can predict what that change will look like.
  • Monthly calendars are great so children can see the bigger picture of their summer. Perhaps weeks 1, 3 and 6 they are at camp. Maybe weeks 2 and 4 they are at grandparents or a babysitter and maybe week 5 they are on vacation and week 7 is to be decided. If it’s all written out on a calendar, children can then see a framework of what will happen each week and be able to anticipate the changes in a calmer way.
  • Involving children in the planning of their summer is a great way to help alleviate anxiety. If you are planning a family vacation, giving children input on what you do and see will make them feel more involved with the holiday.
  • Prepping children on the weekend what the week ahead will look like and allowing them to ask questions and express concerns is a great way to reduce stress. If they are going to a new camp that week, they will likely have lots of questions about what it will be like. Working through scenarios that may cause anxiety is a great tool for minimizing the worries.
  • Eating well, sleeping well and exercise are just as important in the summer in order to keep stress levels to a minimum. We often relax our sleep schedules and eating routines during the summer which is nice and fun for the children but lack of sleep will contribute to stress levels, so keep that in mind if a child is highly anxious.

 

Enjoy the summer and hopefully this crazy weather will improve! PossAbilities Educational Consulting is open during the summer, so if you have any school related questions or if you want to enroll your child in a little bit of tutoring, feel free to get in touch at sharonreichstein@gmail.com