School professionals play a vital role in children's lives. Here are 9 strategies they can use to help their students succeed in school.
When families and schools work together, everyone wins. When both systems are open to one another, the school-to-prison pipeline can be interrupted. As this new school year begins, take on the challenge to understand each other, and to support and problem-solve together. It’s a new school year and a new opportunity for success and progress for students, schools and families.
In Part 1 of our blog, we considered what strategies families could use to help their children succeed. In Part 2 of our blog, let’s consider how we can effectively build those positive home-school links by examining what educational professionals can do to support student success.
What school professionals can do
- Every student is different, and so are their families. Recognize that each student and each family is uniquely different. This means the resources each can contribute to a young person’s education varies. Some families have computers in their homes. Others go to the local library. Some families have easy access to school uniforms. For others, it is a challenge. Take time to know your students and what their families can contribute.
- Doing “their” best. Start with the assumption that every student and every family is doing the very best they can—and with the right support, their best can, and will, yield positive outcomes.
- Trust must be built. Some parents had negative experiences with schools when they were young, and they struggle to trust school staff. This distrust can be overcome with positive interactions that tell parents that their children are important and valued.
- Level the playing field. Many families feel overwhelmed when they come to meetings and are outnumbered by school staff. They feel intimidated and don’t know the rules. It’s important to make families feel welcomed and heard. Tell them something that is going well or that they are doing right. Explain that you are all working toward the same goal.
- Ongoing communication is key. Families communicate in different ways. They will not know the phrases, abbreviations or acronyms that are common parlance for school staff. In addition, English may not be their first language, and an interpreter must be provided. Before responding to questions, make sure that you have stated your understanding of the issue presented.
- Explain classroom and school expectations, and apply the rules uniformly to all students. Talk about your school’s code of conduct and how things work in your classroom. Engage the support of families in your routines and projects.
- Parents and students are the experts. Parents and families are important members of your team. Bring them to the table as they are the experts on their child. Their knowledge is invaluable to your success. In addition, put youth at the center of decisions. This enables them to “own” their education and learn critical decision-making skills for life.
- Learn new strategies to engage and teach your students and avoid exclusionary discipline practices. Research consistently discloses that punitive-discipline practices don’t work. They are more likely to push students to disengage from school, become truant and ultimately, drop out. There are better evidence-based alternatives. Learn more about: trauma-informed approaches to learning, restorative justice practices and school-wide positive behavior supports.
- Check your bias. It is well documented that children of color and children with disabilities are treated more harshly for the exact same conduct in school. From racial disparities in pre-school expulsion rates to disproportionate referrals to alternative education, the data tells the story. We all have biases. We need to question and challenge ourselves to overcome those biases. Our bias and prejudice will have a lasting and profound negative impact on the lives of the children we touch.
Though the school year is in full swing, families and professionals should keep these points in mind this year. Practice them, and students will have a better chance at succeeding.
Maura McInerney is a senior attorney at the Education Law Center-PA, a non-profit public-interest law firm whose mission is to ensure access to quality public schools for educationally at-risk students across Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.elc-pa.org, or follow @edlawcenterpa on Twitter.