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Parents: 7 Basic Things for a Successful School Year

  1. Organization! All students need a quiet and consistent time and place for doing evening-weekend-school brake, homework and study. To be clear, Homework is the work given by the teacher to reinforce the classwork, and Studying is gaining clarity, and a deeper and more advanced understanding of that classwork. The general rule is that consistent studying beyond homework, will make any student: struggling, average or high achieving, into a much better and stronger student! For Middle & High School Students (M&HSS), they need a yearlong calendar based organizer-planner. A neat separate class notes (study guides) taking system. Students in every grade need subject/class specific-separate (color coded) folders for returned & graded homework, essays, reports, quizzes, test, assignments and projects. Lack of organization is one of the major ‘pitfalls’ for first year M&HSS.
  2. The ‘old folks’ said that: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Also true is that too much ‘idle’ time away from school, can undermine and diminish any good teaching-learning done in school. Fill your child’s after and weekend out-of-school time with academically supportive, fun, and discipline-developing activities. Things like: Independent ‘reading for fun’, Scouting, Chess, Art, Dance, Acting, Martial Arts, Vocal & Instrumental Music, coached-organized sports (e.g. fencing, archery, swimming, gymnastics, etc.) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs and classes. It is important to get boys around a positive male mentor/role model, and supportive male peers who honor and seek to do well in school. Turn your city into a weekend and school break ‘classroom’! There are many free and reduced admission cost to museums, art classes, exhibits, parks, cultural institutions, special events, and theater performances. A Public Library card is free. In NYC a Public Library card allows free access to 33 participating museums across the city.       Visit,
  1. Be a mentor-guide and high academic standards champion for your child (Find a friend your own age!) Young people will essentially rise to the level of expectations placed on them by the significant adults in their lives. Don’t go A.W.O.L, Away Without Oversight and Leadership, when they hit the ‘independent’ middle & high school years. Only asking: “How was school today?” and receiving the typical answer: “fine” or “Ok”; is a recipe for academic disaster. Have a real conversation with your child about what is going on with their school life. Be ‘educationally nosey’. By the way, there is no grade on any report card or transcript for things like: ‘best dressed’, ‘cutest’, or ‘most expensive sneakers’! Set up an effective communication ‘early warning’ link with school administrators and teachers through email, ‘parent-teacher journal’, notebook notes, text messages or phone. If you discover after report cards are issued that your child has, or is failing a course-subject area, or is engaging in self-destructive misbehaviors, that is a serious problem.
  2. Students need to be well rested, eat a good breakfast, and get to school every day, and on time. M&HSS parents should make sure that the child is arriving to school, and each class on time, and that they are prepared to behave and do their classwork. Encourage good ‘learning habits’ in your child, like daily (including weekends) studying, ‘pride in what you produce’, and not waiting for the last minute to do homework, a class assignment or project.
  3. Make it ‘OK’ for your child to be smart and get high grades. For M&HSS parents this is a critical life determining period for your child, they won’t get a second shot at childhood. Boys especially, must be monitored carefully. Are they surrendering to negative peer-pressure and ‘dumbing-down’? Also, ‘Smartness’, contrary to popular belief, can be grown. Support any hobby, interest or activity in or out of school that increases your child’s thinking capabilities.
  4. Attend “Back to School” events, PTA/PA meetings, parent workshops, join the school parent list serve, if there is a ‘parent portal’ on the school’s website sign up. Attend Parent/Teacher Conferences (P/TC), for which you will need a ‘winning strategy’. I will explain that ‘winning strategy’ for realizing a successful P/TC in a later column.
  5. Important for high school parents, you must learn quickly the difference between the K-8 promotional system, and the high school credit based ‘Carnegie’ promotional system. Request that your child’s school do a ‘how to read and interpret a high school transcript’ parent workshop. Request a copy of your child’s transcript at the end of each school year; make sure that he is on ‘schedule’ to graduate with his ‘class’. You (and your child) must be familiar with the requirements (courses and exams to pass, number of credits required to earn) to be promoted to each next grade, and ultimately to graduation. There is no ‘seat time’ or ‘aging out’ credit that can lead to a grade promotion or a high school graduation.

All the above basic but essential actions represent attributes of an effective education parent. And although you need not be a professional educator to practice them; know that they are the ‘successful parenting techniques’ utilized by professional educators who are parents themselves.


Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…


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