Students are rested and ready (but not always eager) to begin classes when school starts in the fall. For those transitioning into middle, high school, or college, there’s also the excitement and challenge of navigating a new educational landscape. New teachers, classes, and activities to experience are right around the corner: Is your student ready?
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As parents, how can we help our kids position themselves for a successful school year?
Below you will find my three essentials for students. This will also help those who may need a little extra parental support or encouragement this year to help position them for success.
Three academic essentials to help teens have a successful school year
1. Find clarity through tracking assignments and commitments
In my experience as a classroom teacher, tutor, and academic coach, I found that students who had a system to track assignments and school commitments were the most successful. These students were clear about their deadlines and time commitments and could easily see what they needed to do next.
While schools now offer online systems to track assignments and grades, the information is spread across multiple platforms and doesn’t always reflect what teachers talk about in class. Furthermore, the school platforms do not include the other commitments students have outside of school like extracurricular, work, or family obligations.
To support their success, your student needs a single place to keep track of everything they have going on. The teenage brain is not always fully ready to manage what today’s student life requires: their brains are still learning how to prioritize and plan, so I recommend that my students use a planner to consolidate and track their assignments, extracurriculars, work, and family commitments.
I prefer a paper planner because it’s less distracting than a digital device. Some schools offer these to students, but if they don’t, I recommend finding one designed for your student’s academic level. Students in middle school need more structure than those in high school or college.
2. Find and create perfect study spot(s)
It’s important to find a place that supports student focus. Younger students sometimes prefer to work in common spaces like the kitchen table, but as they get older, many may move into their rooms or other more private spots. Sometimes students like to work at the school or public library if they have a pause between the end of school and the beginning of an activity.
One of the high school students I coached had a two-hour gap after school before his water polo practice. This student was struggling to get his work done after coming home from practice, so the decision was made that he would go to the school library after classes. He said to me, “I didn’t realize how much I could get done, and having a place to go made all the difference.”
Wherever your student lands, the most important thing is that they have a way to maintain focus when they work. As a parent, you can help them make deliberate decisions about choosing places that support their learning. Ideally, the space has a table or desk, but some students are efficient working in a comfortable chair or on the ground. Most importantly, the space must be free of distracting devices and noise. Phones should be left in a different room or on airplane mode.
Students may think they are good multitaskers, but the human brain is wired specifically to single-task. Every time a notification pops up and takes away their attention from the task, the brain needs to reset to return to the schoolwork. This takes time.
This study from Stanford University shows that multi-tasking contributes to decreased concentration and memory and slows down one’s ability to complete tasks and learn. For some students, headphones and listening to music can help them stay focused and on task.
3. Ask your teachers for help
As a parent, it can be a bit challenging to get your student to ask their teachers for help. Ask your student if there are opportunities like tutorials, advisory, office hours, academy, or study halls during which they can get one-on-one help. But, be light-handed because the moment you insist that they take advantage of one of these options, they may decide to push back.
If your child doesn’t know how to approach their teacher (this is often the case) and asks for your help, consider these conversation starters:
“I would like to do well in your class. What are some of the things that students have done to be successful?” or “I’m struggling with X. Can you suggest some ways that I can improve?” or “I’ve tried doing the homework and just keep getting stuck. Do you have any ideas of where I can go when this happens?” or simply, “I could use some help with X. When’s the best time for me to get some extra help from you?”
We all know how much a great teacher can inspire and motivate. If your child is hesitant to talk to a teacher, have them start with their favorite so they feel more comfortable and confident that it will go well.
The start of school is an exciting and important time. Help your student find clarity by tracking, distraction-free study spots and asking for help from their teacher. These are just three small ways through which your student can have the best school year yet!
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