Eight tips for parents from Florida’s Teacher of the Year
Joy Prescott has advice for parents — and the chops to offer it. She has taught for 17 years and was recently named Florida’s 2019 Teacher of the Year by the Florida Department of Education. She’s also a mother of three. Through both professional observation and personal trial and error, she has learned a lot about how parents can help their children get the most out of school.
“First of all, who better to play a role in the child’s life than their own parent?” she asks. “Your child has more connection with you than they have with anyone. If you create that connection in the younger years, they’re going to want to live up to your expectations.”
Here are Prescott’s tips to best position your child for a successful school year:
1. Give kids structure. “They want rules; they want things that are expected of them,” Prescott says. “Otherwise, they flounder, and that’s the times they start to get in trouble.” Parents justifiably relax those rules during the summer, but when school resumes, kids need to know their schedule: when they’ll get up, do homework, go to bed, etc.
2. Homework comes first. “Work first; play later. I think that’s important,” Prescott says. If your child has sports practice or another obligation right after school, have them start it the moment they get home. “You don’t want them to say, ‘I’m going to relax and hang out and then I’m going to do my homework.’ ”
3. Let them struggle first. With her first child, Prescott sat beside him while he did homework. “The problem was, in eighth grade, I was still sitting beside him doing his homework. He wasn’t venturing out to think for himself.” With her second child, Prescott walked away and said, “I want you to struggle with it for a little while, but then you can ask for help.” She recommends checking over completed homework and circling the problems that students need to take another look at. If they’re still struggling, step in and help, but consider letting the teacher know what was difficult. “Say, ‘I circled these … She might have the right answer now, but she didn’t at the beginning.’ ”
Express your excitement about all your child is going to learn while they’re in school. When they get home, encourage them to tell you something they learned and what their best moment of the day was, even if it was just surprise ice cream.
4. Connect with the teacher. “The teacher is very, very, very busy, so sometimes you have to take the initial step,” she said. You can open the door by simply asking if there’s anything the teacher needs, or if he or she has any suggestions for you to help your child. “A majority of the parents want to help but don’t know how to help,” Prescott said. “With today’s tech, it’s easy to shoot an email or even a text and ask, ‘Is there anything you need me to know?’ ”
5. Talk positively about school. Express your excitement about all your child is going to learn while they’re in school. When they get home, encourage them to tell you something they learned and what their best moment of the day was, even if it was just surprise ice cream. And if at some point they say they hate school, it matters how you respond. “You’ve gotta dig deeper, ask ‘why’ questions,” Prescott says.
6. Teach kids how to make friends. “It’s not such an innate skill that they have. We have to give them the language. What does it look like, what does it feel like, what does it sound like to be a friend? Help them with those words.”
7. Keep your child organized. “That’s a hard one,” she said. Parents want to encourage independence and personal responsibility in their children, but kids also need to be taught organizational skills. “Show them how to keep a binder. Go through their backpacks, even if it’s every two weeks. Say, ‘this is your homework, it needs to go in this pocket.’ ”
8. Encourage a growth mindset. Prescott encourages parents and students to understand “the power of ‘yet.’ ” Kids get frustrated learning new things, throwing up their hands and saying they can’t do it, they’ll never be able to do it. “Whenever they say these things, even if parents just use the word ‘yet,’ that’s showing a growth mindset,” she said. “If you keep pounding that into them, they will eventually start to believe it.”