Friday, Aug. 2, 2013
By Kari Walker

Lafayette Education Foundation Teacher Awards finalist Terry Richard tells INDfamily how parents can help kids get to the head of the class this school year. Richard is also a parent and understands the challenges parents face at home, such as difficulty connecting and communicating with a child struggling in school. A heart for educating led Richard out of a 28-year career as a corporate trainer and into the classroom three years ago at Charles Burke Elementary. Richard anxiously awaits a new set of students for the fall to share his passion for learning.

What’s the most important element for students and starting the year right?

I feel it’s two-fold — the first thing they need is to be ready to learn and open to different styles of learning. If a student had a great summer break, school supplies in tow, proper uniform and their determination guiding them, I don’t think anything can stop them from achieving. Second, they need support and encouragement from home. I call each parent within 48 hours of the start of the first day to start the communication process.  

How can a parent help a child succeed no matter the grade level?
Parents can take an active role in learning — we have knowledge and insight kids don’t have at this age. It’s up to the parent to congratulate good choices as well as to teach a child to learn and build from choices that create an opportunity. This support can be done with questioning your child every day about learning, sitting down with them monitoring at different stages of homework completion, signing graded papers and progress reports and attending parent-teacher conferences are a few. I give a problem of the week we learned in class to students and make them ask a parent for the answer for homework credit. A child needs to believe at an early age support is a way to help them.   

What do you tell parents about balancing school work with extra-curricular activities (sports, school clubs, community activities)?
I remind my own child, age 11, that extracurricular is just that – EXTRA. I always advise and make sure that homework comes first. Homework is an extension of what you understood in class or the need to narrow the learning gap. Start homework with extra time allowed in class, on the ride from school to home, when you get home or on the way to your activity. Those are all precious times to be used. This will allow the student to concentrate on their school work, then use the rest of their needed concentration on their activity. The concentration needed during activities affects their whole team or achievement. Also, by doing any school work on the way to their activity will allow the parent to monitor and “actively” participate in their learning, creating a stronger support system. Trying to do all schoolwork after they are “tapped out” from their activity will usually only get rushed work that is not comprehended. We are now under a learning system that makes students use their knowledge instead of just memorizing facts. Students need an outlet — I believe activities after school are the key to many worthwhile elements like teamwork and self-confidence, but never at the sacrifice of academics.  

What is your favorite tool to help students get organized with assignments, test dates and other activities? Do you think a traditional pen and paper calendar planner is the way to go or is there an technology based app you prefer?
In our school, we use the daily planner agenda book to help students get organized with assignments.  In one spiral bound organizer, it allows the student to write all their homework assignments, pending projects, future test dates, future field trips, conduct grades, spelling words for the week, birthdays as well as other important information.  This helps a parent/guardian to monitor their child’s path to success.  I also use an “Important Papers Folder” with a keep at home side and a return to school side pocket for communication.  This is also building their responsibility as a bridge to get information back and forth.  A parent or I can go back and hold each child responsible for their lessons as well as activities for any date throughout this book.  I give each student their conduct grade for the day and initial it.  The next morning I am looking to see that each parent initialed on the side of mine to ensure we stay on board with discipline.    

For a parent struggling with a student not very interested in education, how can they better engage their child in realizing learning can be fun and worthwhile?
Learning can be fun — it’s  one of the reasons I teach.  If I had a parent who was struggling with their child that wasn’t interested in learning, I would suggest more communication with the child.  You can find out so much by talking to your child at an “early” age.  Children who are asked questions at an early age don’t fear being asked them throughout their life.  It is when they do, you find out that something may be troubling them and the need to break through the wall.  Find out what your child likes and dislikes and help them more with the dislikes at first.  If they don’t like to read, then find books on a subject matter they enjoy.  Ask their teacher for help as the school has many resources.  If they don’t like math, then use food or toys around the house to help them with math problems.  If they don’t like science, then on the weekends do small experiments like changes in matter with ice cubes going from solid to liquid or cut a piece of fruit open and watch it turn colors and talk about why it changes. If they don’t like social studies, then make them draw a map of your house going from one place to another and then together walk the trail. You can also race two toys cars with different declines and talk about why one car finished first.   If they don’t like writing, then sit down and tell them a favorite story of yours and have them write the story down and then when they are finished, have them write one of their favorite times in their life.  All of these examples increase the chances of learning and how to know your child’s abilities to be able to help them more.  These experiences along with conferences with their teacher will give you a factual account of possible tutoring needs to help break down why your child may not want to learn.      

Some families have different challenges with children.  I have only one child, but I see families with multiple children going in several directions.  Some activities last late into the night and that is where doing schoolwork early is the key.  If the child is tired the next day in class, then that affects their learning.  That is when I communicate more with the parent to come to a solution so the child can continue what the need to do in school as well as what they like to do after school.  Failure to finish school work can be an indicator that grades will drop.  Many parents should communicate that incomplete work may lead to a suspension of their extracurricular activities.  This knowledge beforehand in the means of a family contract they agree upon or just a sit down talk I think it vital.  Doing this leads to success, less stress, independence, responsibility, greater self confidence and a successful school year and that is a win-win for all.     

Terry’s tips to helping a child become self-governed via parents’ encouraging independence in studies and responsibilities:
• Make sure your child shows his planner to take ownership of his day’s activities;
• Have your child immediately show you finished homework or work that needs to be completed so you don’t have to badger him about homework;
• Talk about conduct grade for the day;
• Give the child time goals for completing work to convey the concept of time management; and
• Fill backpack with everything needed to return to school and set it by the door your child walks out of in the morning.

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