One ‘truism’ we hear constantly is that change is inevitable, and I accept this however, if you take this on face value you are ignoring two points that must be considered. These are, change is not always for the best and the second point is that change evokes stress. In contemporary years, society’s expectations of schools have never been more intense. The issues facing schools are the increasing emphasis on schools’ accountability through close evaluation of its performance based on external testing, particularly the NAPLAN test in an environment where external departmental support is being reduced.
Coupled with thi, is the emphasis placed on students to succeed in a narrow range of all the skills they will need to acquire. Literacy and numeracy are just two elements in a child’s education but the whole worth of our efforts is based on these factors that are at the heart of the NAPLAN test. Not only does this put pressure on the teachers but I am well aware the students are also pressured.
Further, when the media focuses on a social problem there is a perceived assumption that schools need to ‘solve’ the problem. At the end of my career I remember listening to the radio going home from school where the ‘problem’ of our unfit youth was being discussed. The majority of the calls taken by the presenter reinforce the view that it was the ‘school’s fault’. Of course, I was silently defending our school, silently making the case that was not our fault!
Then I realised I was acting in the adversarial manner so typical of our modern society. It is obvious the people listening are also prone to take one side or the other. I understand that many parents agree with the position ‘it’s the school’s fault’. This conflict breaks down the community spirit and invariably leads to tension and stress conditions both for the parents and the teachers. This situation is not conducive to collaborative solutions to help our kids.
Of course, things are not perfect and today’s students can do better. It is also true that schools are part of our community and do have a part to play. I am aware that:
- Some parents do feel anxious in regards to what is happening with their child at school
- Some students are over-anxious about their schooling
- Teachers are becoming more and more stressed
I know good schools always want you to contact them when you are concerned, they know they are far from being perfect and will make mistakes. But sometimes children do not divulge the whole story when they talk about what has happened at school but it’s the only version the parents hear.
To help parents (when I refer to parents, I include all other primary care providers including guardians) get a clearer picture of what is really happening and more importantly, help you minimise the stress you, the parents and the child may be experiencing I have outlined some steps you might take that could help you get a better idea of what is really going on at school and how to help them develop personal skills and resilience. I have summarised below some information you may share with parents:
1. Sharing too much
When your child comes home from school with tales about being bullied either by ‘mean’ girls, ‘aggressive’ boys or ‘insensitive’ teachers, keep in mind that your children feed off your emotions and can get more distraught when they see you distressed. Try to keep our own anxiety in check while sympathising with theirs. You should be the emotional rock; the person who understands and supports your child. Then get the facts and if need be you should contact the school.
2. Advocating too hard
We all want to stand up for our children, but our eagerness to advocate can sometimes actually raise everyone’s anxiety levels. If your child shares a school problem with you, your first instinct is often to march into the school and try to resolve it. This tells your children that you don’t have faith in us or in your child to fix their problems. Your first priority should be to help them find a solution they can implement without your help, every time. Again, if it is serious contact us.
3. Compensating for weaknesses
It is truly an unusual child who is great at everything. So it follows that generally there will be areas at school in which they struggle. We want our kids to have healthy self-confidence and instead of focusing on and compensating for weaknesses, remind them to play to their strengths. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self-efficacy and confidence.
4. Overplaying strengths
Linked closely with the previous point is the risk that too much positive affirmation can easily turn to pressure. Compliment children when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason you love them or to expect even more from them.
5. Having great values
Sometimes children make poor choices and I know they fret about their family finding out – it can seem like a fate worse than death. Let your children know that while values are important, you understand the realities and temptations they face. Disapprove of the behaviour but never of them. Don’t create a culture where your children are too anxious to come to you and admit they messed up.
6. Hiding your troubles
If your family is struggling financially or fighting with each other, don’t make the mistake of thinking your children are better off not knowing. They are very good at sensing problems and if they suspect something and if don’t know the whole story they can blow it out of all proportion. Should we pile our own troubles on our child’s shoulders - no, but it doesn’t hurt to be honest about what your concerns are and more importantly what you’re doing about it. By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety.
At the end of 2016 year I conducted my last Year 12 Graduation assembly. At that ceremony I saw the whole school community at its best. The students made the school proud as one after the other presented themselves as the mature and dignified young men and women who I could see will make great members of their community. The staff could rightly feel a sense of achievement looking at these young graduands and knowing what they have achieved. Most inspiring for me was the number of parents and friends who joined the celebration. All the struggles, disputes of the previous years were over but it was through these times the young children learned to become these great young adults. Never lose sight of this achievement that is repeated year after year in all our schools.