It occurred to me a few weeks ago that for the first time in 18 years my wife and I will not be preparing our son for the start of school. After pre-school, a K-12 education and four years of college, he has graduated and is now moving to the world of work!
Like all parents, we would go through a checklist of items (even during his college career) to make sure he had what he needed to be successful for the upcoming school year. This time of year brings back memories of not just his experience in school but also of the 28 years I would prepare for the return of students as a teacher, principal or superintendent.
Students in most communities are about to make the long-awaited return to campus for the beginning of school. Some will return in person while others will remain at home choosing to learn virtually. The need to help our children prepare for the school year is arguably more important this year than ever before. We need to remember that they are as excited, and also as nervous, as their parents, teachers, administrators and community members are about starting school again.
Below are some back to school suggestions that I would always share with parents as a K-12 administrator. In addition to the “normal” suggestions, there are some that I have added to the list as we welcome children back to their school in a very different time in our history.
One of the most important transitions to make in the beginning of school is to re-establish a routine for all parts of the day. Students need to be back in a pattern of waking up earlier, eating a good breakfast, planning time for homework in the afternoon and also getting to bed on time. This year the need to get back in a routine is more important than usual given that our students have been out of a routine since early March.
Another suggestion that I would make every year but again has even more importance this year is to establish communication with your child’s teacher(s) as early as possible. This is so much easier to do than it was even a decade ago with so many technology advances. In most cases, parents can check their child’s grades and keep up with assignments that are due on a daily basis. With students being out of a face-to-face instruction for the last six months, keeping up with your child’s progress is critical as we begin school again. Not only do they have to get back in the routine of completing assignments, but parents and teachers have to work together to identify, and compensate for, any gaps in learning that may have occurred during this time away from campus.
In addition to connecting with teachers, all parents need to make sure they are connected in every way possible for updates from their school district. With text messages, websites, email and social media, it is so much easier to get immediate updates regarding any change of plans for the school schedule or any other important information parents need to know.
One back to school suggestion that is certainly new to the list for this year would be to be on top of online learning.
Most districts in the state are providing digital devices for students to use to not only aid in their education but also to be used in the event that school must return to an online-only environment. Parents were asked to do so much more in their child’s education last year when classes were placed online but now that everyone knows that this could be an option in the future, the time is now to prepare.
The last, and most important, item for this year’s back to school suggestion list is a heavy dose of patience! We need to be patient with our students as they are eager to return to campus and to create some sense of normalcy.
All of them have been out of a regular school routine for six months and entering the school culture again will be difficult.
Schools need to be patient with parents as they have all been doing the best they can during the pandemic to continue their child’s education. All of us, whether we have children in school or not, need to display patience and grace to our schoolteachers and leaders during this return to school and for the rest of this transition.
Teachers have had to learn a new way to teach and a new way to monitor the progress of their students. Some teachers will continue to deliver their instruction in an online format in addition to taking care of the needs of their students in person.
In 23 years of being a school administrator, I have certainly made tough decisions. Some I felt were right even if many didn’t agree and some decisions I would go back and do differently. I can honestly say, however, that I never faced decisions as difficult as I have seen facing our school leaders during this pandemic. There are literally no good options in many cases, so we all need to take that into consideration and do all we can to support them.
The only way we will make this return to school a success is by being prepared, showing grace and with a lot of prayer! Our children deserve a good school year, so let’s join together as a team to make it a reality for them.
Dr. Ben Burnett of Hattiesburg is executive vice president and dean of the School of Education at William Carey University. Write him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.