Mindful Parent to Teacher Communications – Lessons Learned

Sometimes keeping up on school emails, newsletters, permissions slips, activity sign-ups, announcements, and checking data in the online student tracking system, the Parent Portal, can seem a little overwhelming for parents. As a working mom with two active children in two different schools, I often find myself skimming communications from both schools between running from one activity to the next. If I have questions about grades or activities or something that happened at school, I quickly send an email to a teacher.

In the past, a rushed email to a teacher may have come off as impatient or judgmental, when it was more likely just a quick message without much thought put into it at all and sent between a meeting at work, pick up from basketball practice and a grocery store run. I’ve learned over the years to take a few extra moments and slow down and to be more thoughtful in my communications with teachers. I’ve found a few changes in my communication attitude and approach have led to more positive outcomes for my children, their teachers, and me.

Easy ways I’ve found to improve my communications with teachers include: staying positive, checking tone in emails, making appointments, and being open to listening to different perspectives.  

Daniel Patterson is a former teacher and school administrator turned parenting coach. He includes many of the same ideas on how to improve parent-teacher communications in a recent blog post Strategies for Parent-School Communications. Some of Daniel’s key parent-teacher communications strategies include: staying optimistic, respecting hierarchy, making appointments, being direct, considering threats, holding children accountable for their actions.

I’ve tried a few of these strategies over the years and found that every teacher I’ve talked with has the same goals in mind for my children: challenge them to do their best and support them in reaching their full potential.  We can all agree that our great teachers are underpaid for the time and effort they put into their jobs as they meet with parents, plan class time, grade papers and analyze test scores, often outside of school hours. Raising teachers’ salaries and lightening their workload is not something I can do today. However, I’ve learned that just taking a few extra moments and being more mindful in my communications with teachers goes a long way in supporting and respecting their work. 

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Are Children Becoming Less Creative?

Sharing a recent article from the publication “ExchangeEveryDay” about creativity trends in US education. Interesting reading: why are the creativity scores of America’s youth falling?

“Kyung Hee Kim, Ph.D., an educational psychologist at the College of William & Mary, in Virginia, has spent the past decade poring over the creativity scores of more than 300,000 American K-12 students. The news is not good: ‘Creativity scores have significantly decreased since 1990,’ she says. Moreover, ‘creativity scores for kindergartners through third-graders decreased the most, and those from the fourth through sixth grades decreased by the next largest amount.'” So writes Carolina A. Miranda in a CNN blog post.

She explains, “The scores Kim is referring to are those generated by the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking — the standard-bearer in assessing creativity in children since the 1960s. In fact, the results of the Torrance Tests are also better indicators of lifetime creative accomplishment than childhood IQ. The tests consist of open-ended questions, such as ‘How many uses can you think of for a toothbrush?’ Scores are awarded based on the number and originality of the ideas produced. A creative child might respond by saying that he can brush his cat’s teeth, polish a rock, and clean his fingernails — all answers that show dexterity in generating a wide range of potentially useful ideas.”

Source: “Why we need to let kids be creative,” by Carolina A. Miranda, January 3, 2012,

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Lessons from Bob Ross and The Importance of Positive Energy in Parenting

It’s funny where you can find parenting inspiration. My junior in high school came home one day last week and asked “who is Bob Ross?”  You know, the famous painter of happy little trees from the 80’s.  He had seen a trailer for the next Deadpool movie with Ryan Reynold’s that started with a spoof of his PBS show “The Joy of Painting”.  After watching the trailer ourselves (caution, may not be appropriate for all ages) and laughing a little harder than our son expected, we explained who the real Bob Ross was and had to show both of our boys a video of his actual show from the archives. We thought they’d last five, maybe ten minutes but to our surprise, they were mesmerized and watched the entire episode.

Positive Perspective

His soft spoken style and quirky humor had them smiling and amazed at how he could create a complete oil painting landscape from scratch in less than 30 minutes.  My husband and I had forgotten how full of positive energy and life lessons he was. After watching two more episodes as a family, we came away with some great quotes from Bob Ross to keep things in perspective:

  • “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy little accidents.”
  • “In painting, you have unlimited power. You have the ability to move mountains. You can bend rivers. But when I get home, the only thing I have power over is the garbage.”
  • “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”
  • “It’s the imperfection that makes something beautiful, that’s what makes it different and unique from everything else.”

As parents, we can get caught up in the pressure of the daily grind and let our imaginations around our kids future get the better of us. Life is about the small things and the life lessons along the way.  These Ross’isms are a friendly reminder that it takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and just getting started.

What To Do With Feedback

A key theme from Ross is that we are not good at everything, and that’s ok.  He tells a story about how he studied under a master portrait painter for a year. Finally his portrait teacher pulled him aside and suggested he stick to landscapes.  Ross laughs about this and agreed with this feedback. Learning to take constructive feedback is a learned skill as it’s important we teach our kids what to do with that information. This feedback could have easily discouraged Ross or caused him to resent his teacher.  Instead he realized he needed to spend his time, energy, and focus on his passion which was landscapes.  He turned this focus into a fifteen million dollar business. In today’s world, it is more important than ever to teach your kids how to focus their attention, energy, and time on their talents and interests.

Finally, most people don’t realize that before pursuing his passion for painting, Ross was a sergeant in the Air Force whose job it was to yell and scream and order people around.  After leaving the Air Force, he decided he would never yell at anyone again.  Ross provided value and made a big impact with his show and business, all while speaking softly and having a sense of humor.  If there is a lot of yelling in your family, ask yourself how effective that has been.  Can we reduce the volume and develop a greater connection with our kids while achieving better results?

As Ross reminds us, the only things we have control over are ourselves and the garbage. If you are experiencing the normal frustrations of parenting, I highly recommend watching an episode or two of his show to gain a little perspective.  At the very least, his soft spoken style and words of wisdom will provide some momentary relief and a chuckle. Think of it as an alternative to meditation.

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What Information Do Parents Want From Schools

A Survey conducted by the National School Public Relations Association(NSPRA) looked at how parents want schools to communicate with them. One section of this survey focused on what information they want the schools to share.

What News They Want

When you are talking about what information parents want from their schools, most communications priorities are the same regardless of grade level:

  • Updates on their child’s progress or insight on how they improve
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year
  • Homework and grading policies

Parents also want much the same information from both elementary and secondary schools:

  • Curriculum descriptions and information on instructional programs
  • A calendar of events and meetings
  • Information on student safety (and quality of teaching, at the elementary level)
  • Educational program changes and updates (elementary level)/curriculum updates and changes in instructional programs (secondary level).

Rounding out the top five for elementary schools was information comparing their school’s performance to others; for secondary, information on graduation and course requirements.

*This information comes from an Article posted in Edutopia by Anne O’Brien, Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance


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Is Sleep the New Non-Negotiable?

Get off The Hamster Wheel

I was working with a client that was trying to figure out how he could get more work done instead of procrastinating and going down the YouTube & Facebook bunny trails. He finished each day feeling anxious and wrapped in guilt that he had not accomplished more.  Sound familiar?

Maybe you or your student have been on the hamster wheel to nowhere and can’t figure out how to get off. After peeling back the onion, what we realized was that he wasn’t getting enough sleep. We had to focus on how to wind down his day to setup a good night sleep before thinking about strategies to get his work done.

You have probably seen some of the latest research regarding sleep deprivation and the effects on the brain. Just one night of poor sleep can affect cognitive ability, mood, coordination, attention, decision making, among others. Absent enough rest, the brain functions at a much slower rate and we have trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, and become more emotional.

Have you ever noticed when you don’t get enough sleep, just finding your keys in the morning can be a struggle? Maybe your sleep deprived kids seem pricklier and more defiant (this also applies to adults.)

Sleep Washes Away The Bad, Cycles in the Good

Sleeping provides the brain with an opportunity to do a “rinse cycle” and get rid of all the toxins that have accumulated throughout the day. When you go to sleep, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid increases significantly, washing away the harmful toxins and waste proteins that build up between the brain cells during waking hours. These toxins have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only are you removing toxins, sleeping is also what enables your brain to consolidate and move information into long term memory. It is this process that then allows the brain to recall and use information to solve problems.  One study showed that teenagers receiving just 18 extra minutes of sleep improved their grades in math and English.  Even the great inventor Thomas Edison recognized the power of sleep to stimulate new thoughts and ideas.  He would put ball bearings in his hand, doze off and when they fell to the ground and the noise woke him up he was able to come up with new approaches. (p. 30-31 a Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.) This explains why our greatest ideas often come to us during our morning shower!

Turn Screen Time Into Sleep Time

What is it that prevents us from getting enough sleep? Unless you have sleep apnea or some other medical explanation, I’ve got one word for you – screens!  Screens can include anything from browsing the internet, social media, video games, Netflix, and YouTube. The issue of endlessly pursuing electronic devices isn’t unique to our kids or millennials.  It does not discriminate by gender, age, or ethnicity. I too have fallen into this trap that takes away from my ability to do my best the following day.

While staring at screens during the day can be detrimental to our productivity and connection with actual human beings, it’s at night that it sets us up for disaster when it comes to sleep.  It is so easy to get sucked into staying up way past our bed time reading the news or catching up on facebook. The blue light emanating from our devices tricks your brain into thinking its daytime. This keeps it in a higher state of arousal and hyper focus similar to the effect of caffeine or even amphetamines. You might as well just drink a cup of coffee right before going to bed.

“So, am I ok if I just dial up the orange light on my device at night,” you might ask?  It’s not just the blue light that causes problems. When you are watching or interacting with a screen, you are increasing the release of certain chemicals into the brain, like dopamine, and stimulating natural reward pathways that feeds the need for additional gratification.   This is why it is so easy to say just 10 more minutes and then end up binge watching an entire season of Game of Thrones late into the night.

A Good Rule To Follow

In our household, there is a “no electronic devices in the bedroom” rule when it is time to go to bed for all of us.  Before implementing this rule, I struggled, looking at work emails after climbing into bed, which kept my mind racing well after turning off the light.  Now I pick up a book instead and I’m fast asleep in ten minutes. Our goal is screens off at least 30 minutes before bed. Are these evening habits always executed perfectly? Nope, we have good days and bad. But I do notice a huge difference in how the end of my day sets me up for the next.  I feel better, am more inclined to work out, go for walks, and am more patient with my kids when they are being knuckleheads.  Even they freely admit that they are wrecked the next day when they slip and sneak a peek at their devices before bed. Having one policy that applies to everyone reduces resistance and from the minions as we are modeling the behavior we expect from our kids. They love to point out any hypocrisy.  In this case, it’s hard to argue.

So how are you going to close out your day? What is your evening routine? Is it worth finding a way as a family to get an extra 18 minutes of sleep?

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How to Successfully Brand Your Business to the K-12 Audience

You may have noticed that lots of stores like Walmart and Target use a very basic technique for reaching kids. They put products at eye level, basically guaranteeing they’re going to be able to reach what they want. As kids get older, they can reach a little higher. So that Playstation video game is a little more expensive the higher in the case it sits. And that toy gets a little more complicated, requiring not 100 but maybe 1000 Lego pieces. Why do they do this?

Consider that the Department of Agriculture finds that cost of raising a child averages out at over $230,000 – and that’s before college. So, there’s clearly a lot at stake tapping into the K-12 demographic.

Beyond putting products at eye level, here’s some easy ways that your sales team can reach students effectively, and very importantly, ethically. 

  • Speak their language: Schools speak a very particular language. They’re the places of homework, tests, and recess. In your promos, play this up in a fun way. “Need a homework break?” Who’d say no to that? Lots of sports camps could call themselves “the ultimate recess.” That’s going to connect with kids in a fun way.
  • Speak their parent’s language: You’ve got to communicate with parents on every level possible. Be transparent about the health and safety of your product or service. If you can’t do that, you’re likely wasting your time and money.
  • Connect with what’s trendy and run kid-centered promotions: Products change fast. Trends don’t. If you can market yourself in trendy, fun way, you’re going to get repeat customers. And remember, a happy parent’s kids are happy. At a restaurant, it doesn’t cost much for kids to eat free, and happy parents can pass that great deal on.
  • Get yourself known in schools Sponsor events if you can. You want to create buzz around your service. Kids can do the branding for you. Are you an ice cream shop? See if you can get an ice-cream social going at school. Are you a food truck? Get yourself involved in field days.
  • Create Original Content Students are more tech savvy every year. They’re going to Google you. Probably run an Instagram search, too. In fact, you want them too – it means you’ve resonated. If you’re coming up with some cool content, that’s going to go a long way in getting them back in.

You can also sponsor a school newsletter with The School Communications Agency. We do the branding for you! Reach out to us – we’d love to hear from you.

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8 New Rules For The 2017/18 School Year

School is back in full swing. With that comes a whole host of new engagement ideas.

Some of the hottest trends right now are flipped classroom, backwards by design, and ideas centered around community engagement.

Whatever your preferred method may be, there is no doubt that the face of education is changing as fast as innovation itself. (Do you want to make a lot of money? Start an ed-tech company.)

As you build engagement in your classroom for the 2017-2018 school year, prepare students for the ever-changing work world and ever-evolving 21st skill set. Here are some New School Rules for doing just that:

  • Sit Wherever You Want: Sit, stand, stretch, jog in place – whatever you need to do to stay motivated. Consider: How long can you stay seated while maintaining attention? As we prepare our students for 21st-century skills, why not teach 21st-century posture? The workplace is a collaborative, open space, full of ideas that need to be given room to breathe.
  • Don’t Raise Your Hand: When is the last time you raised your hand in a meeting ? Did you get heard, or did someone more ambitious talk over you ? Classroom discussion is one of the greatest ways to encourage self discovery. Let the voices flow! Does it get too chaotic? Perhaps. But there’s an easy way to overcome that. Introduce the sessions with a “ticket out the door.”  Students can’t leave until they written down five good ideas they’ve heard.
  • Don’t Do Any Homework: Work life balance is one of the most important job perks.  So students need a good homework life balance. Different schools have different philosophies, but there’s no doubt when a student is learning for eight hours a day that’s probably enough. At the very least, homework could easily be cut back to a couple nights a week or with long-term projects where a night off won’t be a setback.
  • Be Late (Or Leave Early): For many reasons, school starts way too early. Early start times aren’t even conducive to the working parent, who can lose hours a week getting kids to school and killing time before their late-starting job. So, offer students an incentive to be late with flexible scheduling. Kids are growing; they’re tired. Job programs, community volunteering, and other ideas can help give students community experience. As teachers know, if you give students more autonomy, you’ll be amazed at the responsible decisions they make.
  • Come To Class Unprepared: Expect the unexpected when it comes to being a teacher. Well, you should expect the unexpected as a student, too. The best advice students can get this time of year bears repeating: be open-minded, be resilient, be flexible, be varied in your interests, and you’ll be as well rounded as any student out there.
  • Work As Slow As You Want: Every elementary classroom in the country reads the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. Yet by about middle school, students turn into hares, racing through subjects and grades at breakneck speed. Slow it down. Drive passion. Fall in love with one thing at a time. 
  • Chew Gum: I can’t tell you how many times I was caught chewing gum in class just to be told to throw it out.  I’d have loved to have current research that shows chewing gum increases concentration, increases motivation, and is a super incentive for everyone.
  • Treat Yourself How You Want Others To Treat You: The Golden Rule teaches you to treat others as you want to be treated. That’s good, but if we don’t explain to others how we want to be treated, how can anyone know? Treat yourself right first. Take ownership. Take a high road. Ask for help. Listen. That’s what will come back to you.

Do you like these engagement ideas? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or by contacting us. We always love hearing from education professionals.

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Hide The Homework, and Other Great Tips for Getting Homework Done

Conventional wisdom has us believe that homework needs to be done at a desk in a quiet room in one sitting until finished.  Does it really?  Homework can be a daily struggle for many families, especially those with students that have trouble getting started and sustaining focus. Let’s face it, for most kids homework is a chore.  It’s boring and the executive function and self-regulation skills necessary to power through it are lagging in many kids (and adults for that matter; think about doing your own taxes).  Today’s temptations like video games and YouTube videos only make it harder for homework to compete for our student’s attention.  The good news is you can change all that by mixing up the routine and, believe it or not, making homework fun.

So, hide the homework!

That’s right, take a homework assignment and hide it somewhere in the house and then let them complete it in that location once they find it.  I wish I could take credit for the idea but I heard of it while listening to Leslie Josel from Order Out of Chaos.(Check out her website, she has some great products and webinars).  For example, put the math worksheet in the cupboard and once your student finds it, have her squeeze in between the pasta noodles and canned green beans to complete it.  Depending on the grade level, set a rough time limit for how long it should take. If they don’t finish, move to the next assignment which is hiding in the tub. The point is, the fun and excitement of a game of hide and seek reframes the experience and turns completing their homework into a reward for winning the game.  Creating a game or a challenge around an otherwise mundane task increases dopamine in the brain and activity in the frontal cortex where the process of getting things done lives.

“But,” you say, “my kid is too old to play hide the homework?” So then what? Ask them what they think would work. Where do they naturally work when doing something they like?  Does he like to spread everything out on the floor while laying on his stomach and kicking his feet? Is he more productive studying with friends at a library, tutoring center, or coffee shop? Or maybe he needs several homework locations throughout the house to move to when he starts to lose focus?  Some students may actually like the idea of a body double; sit in the same room with them working on your own thing while they do their work.  Movement, a change of scenery, and interaction with others while working stimulates blood flow to the brain and takes the monotony out of the task.

When my youngest was in 4th and 5th grade, we would ride our bikes to the playground with books and snacks in hand and work on an assignment. When that was complete we would bike to the next location. Sometimes he would take me on some wild rides, but we got the work done. With another middle school student, we would play quick games of connect four between homework problems. Not only did she get her homework done, but my money is on her against anyone in a game of connect four. If your teen has an upcoming test, shoot some hoops while you quiz them. One caveat however – your student will have to give you guidelines as to what you are to do if they get the wrong answer. Take your parent hat off and just be a facilitator.  The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. The moment we start to criticize as parents, it’s game over!

Supporting a creative or more active environment and getting more senses involved increases engagement, focus, and the retention of information. Kids are always complaining that they can’t see how they’ll ever use what they’re learning in school, so take real life scenarios and tie it to what they are studying so it’s more interesting and relatable. For example, to help my youngest son understand the benefits of math, we decided to apply the concepts he was learning to a business idea he had to create – selling human sized gummy bears. He had to figure out how much it would cost, come up with a sales price and calculate his margin. He then decided he wanted to hire salespeople and had to figure out how he was going to pay them. After running the numbers and how many life size gummy bears he’d have to sell to make money, he decided this wasn’t a good idea, but he had a newfound appreciation for math.

All of this probably sounds like a big commitment and a lot of time out of an already busy day but it doesn’t have to be.  The big investment is upfront, brainstorming ideas and a little bit of trial and error figuring out which ones will work for your student. From there, it’s about incorporating homework into the quality time you’re already spending together as a family.  And think about the time and energy saved avoiding the battles over getting homework done, missing assignments and poor performance in school.

At the end of the day, no matter the age or the grade, it needs to be a collaboration between you and your student. Brainstorm ideas and give them permission to say “no” to yours.  Even if their ideas are crazy, run with it. If they say “I want to do my homework on the moon” simply respond, “Ok, how will you do that?”  Let creativity reign and have fun coloring outside the lines while exploring all the different routes you can take from point A to point B.

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10 Effective Communication Tips For Teachers, Parents, and Students

The beginning of a school year is an exciting time, with a ton of activity. In addition to building goals, it’s also super important for setting clear, crisp communication guidelines. Purposeful communication makes the beginning of the school year so much easier for everyone involved. A smooth beginning might not guarantee perfection, but you can be sure that a mismanaged beginning is a recipe for dealing with behavioral issues and playing catch up.

August and September are also the months when it seems as if things are happening at 100 mph.  Communication is key throughout the year, so begin early. They can be huge time savers in the end.

Teacher Tip One: Teachers, mail a postcard home and then make a follow up phone call during the first week. Sending a postcard home addressed to students makes them feel welcome in their new class. It also eases anxiety. Sending a card with a personal touch on it, like a favorite sports team or a national park you might have visited during the summer, humanizes the experience as well. In your note, remind the student they are going to have a great year. When the first week of class ends, call the parents letting them know how great their child’s first week was. If this sounds like a lot of work, you are most likely to go to voicemail, based on personal experience. Leave an upbeat message. It will make a huge impression.

Teach Tip Two: Spend the first few weeks with at least one getting to know you activity per day, and be sure it involves oral or written communication. You want to build new relationships right away. You also want to develop a routine where students are comfortable sharing ideas in small groups. Bring the class back together and pull names out of a hat so one or two students can comment on how the activity worked. As always, give them the option to pass, ensuring shy students aren’t put on the spot.

Teacher Tip Three: As a culmination of the first few weeks, invite the principal into your class to firm up rules and expectations. Tell the students the principal is coming as an advocate and confidante. Principals are extremely busy people, so you will only need a few minutes of their time to make an impression with students. Getting students and administration some time together is a huge step in building trust that can come in extremely useful when there are disciplinary issues.

Teacher Tip Four: Have a welcome back party with your teaching team, and be sure to invite family along. Do this early, and as often as possible. Reinforce learning as a fun activity. You can even have themed parties, showcasing work. I used to love hosting international days that the class worked in with history units. We served great cuisine, had a bunch of fun, and reinforced all our learning goals.

Parent Tip One: Parents, write an email to the teacher asking how you can help make the year a good one. In your introductory email let them know that you are so glad that your son or daughter has such a dedicated teacher. Flattery always goes a long way, especially in an inbox. Teachers get dozens of emails a day, so be sure to establish a partnership that serves everyone’s best interest, including the teacher’s.

Parent Tip Two: Attend all the welcome back events you can, and be sure to casually establish a rapport with your children’s teachers. It’s fine to talk shop at welcome events. Likely, you’ll want to set up a formal meeting because teachers are limited by confidentiality in how much they can go into detail with a bunch of other people around. And don’t be afraid to ask for a conference early on. This is often the least busy time of year for teachers and so meeting them for a conference is a lot easier, especially if you pitch it as proactive session.

Parent Tip Three: Find out how involvement will look. An overly strong parent advocate can, potentially, work against the very thing the teacher is working on, like building autonomy. Communication by all parties is important. For example, some kids want to be dropped off at class all the way till high school. Some kids want autonomy by second grade. These are telling signals and can inform all parties on the best way to handle academic, social, and emotional intervention. This is one of the touchier areas, because we all want to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is letting the child work an issue out on his or her own.

Student Tip One: Students, get a planner and a planner buddy who is more organized than you are. This is pretty self explanatory. If you are not organized, you’ll know it. You’re losing things. Missing deadlines. Or your planner make you feel like this. Some students are more meticulous than their teachers. Essentially, make sure the super organized can help the less organized. As a teacher, I’d choose a buddy to help me organize my busy desk, reinforcing their own organization.

Student Tip Two: Be proactive and communicate early with the teacher, letting them know what you’d like to get out of the school year. I’ve had students personally shake my hand after the first day of school. That made quite an impression. If that’s not so easy for you, send them an email, letting them know where you want to succeed. Or chocolate always works. Whatever way is easiest for you, being proactive with a teacher goes a very long way. Remember, teachers are human beings; they like getting nice things. And nothing’s nicer than a student who shows interest.

Student Tip Three: Join a club or, better yet, create one on your own. Chances are there are likeminded people out there who’d be thrilled with your idea. Find a cause. Draft a fantasy team. Build a Minecraft network. Volunteer to grade papers. Above all, get recognized for doing the right thing and for stepping up. School’s got enough social pressures to begin with, so why not come up with something that brings people together? It will definitely set you apart, and open up all kinds of opportunities to be engaged and engage others.

If you find these ideas are working for you personally, let us know! We’d love to hear from you. And thanks for considering The School Communications Agency for all your school communications needs.


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8 Common Mistakes Students Make When Setting Goals, And Ways To Improve Them

It’s baaaaaaack. School, that is. There’s going to be a few moans about that, but honestly, how great is it to get back with your friends, your favorite teachers, and a solid, successful routine. And with classrooms opening already around Colorado, now’s a great time to start helping improve your child’s education through realistic goal-setting.

When engaging in goal-setting activities, keep in mind that students range from the overly ambitious to the easily overwhelmed and every shape and size in between. I’ve had students who were convinced they were going to Stanford in the fifth grade, and I’ve had students who couldn’t tie their shoes in middle school. So, it’s really important to be realistic and also it’s just as important to know what to be realistic about.

Creating unrealistic goals is one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen students make. With that in mind, here are eight goals that can be managed more effectively.

  • Mistake Setting the bar too high Students who want to impress their teacher, mom, or dad can become too ambitious, which while a noble characteristic can more often than not lead to disappointment. Also, it takes the joy from learning. The student I cited above who was convinced he was going to Stanford measured every score, activity, and assignment with this in mind. Anything less than an A+ led to tears. What teacher wouldn’t feel bad about this? Fortunately, we caught this early, and made learning more fun for him, which resulted in just what we thought: better marks!
  • Mistake Setting the bar too low Students who make goals thinking they aren’t good enough can just as easily get lost, bored, and disinterested. They end up falling behind socially, as well, and it becomes a lot of work for teachers and parents to build their confidence back up. Often, those of us who set the bar too low are high achievers in other creative areas that might not be taught in school. Presenting the student with areas to integrate creativity in their work can create a sea change in their motivation.
  • Mistake The goals are not rewarding enough Good goal-setting is incumbent on feeling rewarded when the goal is met. If the goal doesn’t provide meaningful rewards, then the progression is likely to plateau too quickly. When setting a goal with students, ask them how they’d like to be rewarded. They’ll definitely let you know. And don’t be afraid to assert your authority in working with them on rewards. For example, a long term goal like raising their math grade form a C to a B could result in everyone’s favorite – a new video game, but only if it involves high order thinking.
  • Mistake Taking on too many jobs You’ve heard of dress to impress. Well, lots of students say yes to impress. It’s good because they love to help out, but classroom helping is way more effective when the job is highly meaningful to the student and the class. Sure, it’s great to have a student secretary on hand, so when assigning this goal, be sure the student understands there’s more to it than meets the eye. Students love to pass out paper, but when we ran out, they also had to reorder it, reply to any correspondence with a vendor through a quick writing assignment I’d give them, and then be sure it was kept clean and in order. When you do it this way, one job branches out into several.
  • Mistake Not taking enough risks I could usually categorize my classes quite easily. There were the risk averse, and the overly risky. While both presented plenty of opportunities for growth, if I’d have to choose I’d definitely steer students to taking risks, to teach them how to grow. This doesn’t mean setting unrealistic goals, however. It simply means that students learn best just a little outside their comfort zone. That’s the perfect place to present challenges and promote growth.
  • Mistake Goals are too impersonal Goals should be as personal as possible. Commonly, students make this mistake by playing follow the leader. If a particular student makes a goal that works, it is rather easy to copy. After all, we all know what the sincerest form of flattery is. You see this all the time in fads, and learning has fads too. But, fads are only as good as the designer. Goals are our very own designs, and students need to be reminded of this.
  • Mistake Not giving yourself enough time This is arguably the most common mistake in goal setting and often the most frustrating. We all have a tendency to want to see results now!  A good way to overcome this is to be sure at least one goal is a long term goal. Fostering the work ethic gained in achieving long term gains teaches patience and persistence. I think we can all agree this is a really important skill set for a mobile generation of learners.
  • Mistake Not following through When a student reaches their goal, make sure to celebrate it. Then, be sure to build off of it. I taught one student who read all of the 20 classic books she had on her list in half the time she allotted. The class celebrated that by watching an adaptation of Great Expectations. The next day, we set a new goal. She said she wanted to watch more adaptations she loved them so much. Out of that, she grew an affinity for film. That’s how the best goals work. They build one on top of another.

Remember, the best way to set goals is to individualize them as best as you can. You can have all the aspirations in the world and still the single most important thing you can be is realistic. And realistically, the sky is truly them limit when handling goals correctly.

If you’d like The School Communications Agency to work with you in setting realistic goals, we’d love to help. Contact us for more.

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