10 keys to student success

All parents want to see their children succeed in life, and there are many different ways they can help them to do so. We asked some educators in and around Chicago to share what they believe are the keys to success for students and ways parents can help their kids be their best.

1. Foster independence.

“It is vital that children learn to be independent,” says John Biggs, head of Primary School at the British International School of Chicago, South Loop. He encourages making them responsible for their backpack and gathering everything they need for the day. He says that even little ones can be responsible for getting their coat.

Biggs also stresses not bailing students out when they forget something. “They may have consequences to face at school, but that is part of them developing their independence and resilience,” he says.

2. Have downtime without devices.

Rachel Gemo, head of St. Benedict Preparatory School in Chicago, says that students need down time away from digital devices. “Do the research, determine what is right for your family, then stand your ground,” she advises.

She suggests having some time for physical play after school for a mental break before starting homework.

3. Model kindness and respect.

Robyn McCloud-Springer, head of school at Chiaravalle Montessori School, cautions that little ones are watching and modeling our behavior, and that’s especially true when parents are stressed.

“They sense our level of anxiety and how we are treating each other and the energy between us,” says McCloud-Springer, who also represents the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools. “Just speaking respectfully to your family can have a big impact,” she adds. “It can start a kindness revolution.”

4. Encourage students to be actively involved in their education.

The best learning happens when children are engaged.

“You can’t just sit back and watch, you have to participate,” says Eric Wozniak, headmaster at St. John’s Northwestern Leadership Academies in Delafield, Wis. “Encourage your child to take ownership and have an active part in their own learning.”

5. Read at home.

Jill Vanderhye, a language arts teacher at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, says reading at home is important and that teachers can really see a difference in students who spend time reading with their parents. She also encourages reading aloud, by both parents and students, regardless of age.

“Kids are never too old to read aloud,” she says, noting that doing so increases fluency and listening skills.

6. Teach time management.

Parents know there are never enough hours in the day, but it’s important to help your kids manage the hours they have.

“Parents can help students by setting out an agenda at home,” Vanderhye says. Parents can help students with knowing how to fill out their assignment notebooks and going a step further to include extracurricular and family events.

Margaret Smith of Tiger Tutor agrees. She suggests that students have a checklist and/or a daily calendar on the refrigerator. “Not only does it take pressure off parents to manage their children, it helps kids learn how to manage a process and see that process through,” she says.

7. Model lifelong learning.

When parents share what they are learning and what challenges they are overcoming, they model for children that learning extends beyond the classroom, Smith says. “Check in with your children about what they are learning and how it’s going. Ask what they’re struggling with and share what you are struggling with,” she advises.

Wozniak encourages helping kids get comfortable saying, “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand.” One way to do that is to model doing so.

8. Communicate with your child’s teacher.

Sharing information about what’s going on at home can help your child’s teacher assist them in class. Biggs says knowing about a sick pet, bad night’s sleep or parent away for work when that’s not the norm can help a teacher adjust their expectations and give your child the support they need.

That said, Biggs cautions against emailing teachers all the time if it is not necessary.

9. Let go of perfection.

“Set the daily expectation that you want your children to do their best on homework, but that doesn’t always mean perfect,” Gemo says. She explains that struggling students “need to feel good when they give it their best and complete their work, even if there are errors.”

Conversely, she says that parents should “give their ‘perfectionist’ child a time limit to complete the work so he/she is not spending too much time on an assignment.”

10. Empower your kids.

“One of the most important things for student success is helping children understand that they have the agency to create the future they want,” Wozniak says. “Help them see that they have power over their own life and the ability to control their destiny.”

This article originally published in Chicago Parent’s Making the Grade 2020 print edition. Read the rest of the issue here.

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