Summer is winding to a close, and that means it’s time to head back to school. As with any fresh start, the new school year brings with it new opportunities, along with new pitfalls. How can you set your student up for success in the new year?
At Smarten Up, we place a real emphasis on executive function skills — the skills that help students work smarter to meet deadlines and learn most effectively. If students can start the year on the right foot with regards to the organizational of their materials, task management, and engagement with their class materials, they will be in a better position to learn and thrive this year. Likewise, if students begin by procrastinating on readings and test review, lose track of their materials, or miss an odd homework assignment, they’ll quickly start to slide down a path that will only get more difficult as they fall further behind.
Practically, this means insuring that students have a plan for managing their work with some sort of physical or digital planner, that they have all of the organizational infrastructure they’ll need to keep work and notes from different classes in order, and that they are held accountable to the systems they plan on using. The first few weeks will involve proactively figuring out where and when homework is posted for each class, navigating the rhythm of a new class schedule and the internal schedule of quizzes and assignments for each course, and getting to know the standards and requirements of each individual teacher.
Students should also be reminded of the importance of relationships with these teachers; behavior in the first few weeks of school can form impressions that last for the whole year. If students can demonstrate a willingness to work diligently, ask interesting questions, and support their classmates’ learning, they’ll earn a relationship that can pay off when they need a bit of extra help or flexibility with a deadline. For high school students, these relationships are also key for college applications as recommendation letter season rolls around.
As part of building a positive relationship with their teachers, students should establish a channel of communication that is respectful and direct, without intruding unnecessarily on the teacher’s time. It can be very useful for students to be in touch with teachers over email when they need to ask a clarifying question about a major assignment or upcoming test, but given the informality of most digital communications, students will often need some coaching to understand the requirements of a more ‘professional’ email, with correct grammar and punctuation. As a young classroom teacher, I regularly received emails with no capitalization or punctuation from students—and while I was more forgiving than many of my older colleagues, in the worst case these emails risk being perceived as rude or lazy. Parents can help guide these emails with younger students, while supporting a movement toward self-advocacy that will serve them in high school and college.
The new year should be an opportunity for a fresh start for students—part of our role as parents and educators is ensuring that this fresh start includes an awareness of the extra work—not explicitly assigned or explained—of forming good habits and relationships. These executive function skills are central to being a strong student, and we often assume that students understand what it means to be “organized” or “prepared.” Now is a great time to begin to have that dialogue with your child, and should he or she be resistant to help from a parent, our amazing team of Smarten Up coaches are always here to help!