Start the School Year Strong: Helpful Tips from a School Principal
Wow, it’s amazing to realize that another school year is about to begin! The whole school community is buzzing and students are getting ready to settle into their new learning environments. One of my most important responsibilities as an elementary principal is overseeing classroom assignments. At my school, we start this process the previous spring with parent input forms, collaboration between regular and special education teachers regarding placement, a review of the list by several staff members, and occasionally feedback from students. This is all in an attempt to assign each student to a teacher and classroom that meets their individual needs.
I have always felt that a good match of teacher, student, and parents is the first step toward academic growth and success. This is especially true of students who have learning difficulties and who often struggle in a "traditional" school environment. When you talk with high school and college students, or even adults, about their favorite and most effective teachers, people rarely mention the subject matter, but they often describe attributes of the classroom environment and their relationship with the teacher.
In addition to a good connection between teacher-student-parent it’s important to develop a solid organizational system at the start of the new school year. In the last few years, a lot of books and articles about students’ executive functioning issues have been published. Understanding that the prefrontal cortex of the brain (which affects organization and planning abilities) is not fully developed until students are in their early to mid-20s, we (as their adult support system) must find ways to support their organizational proficiency between home and school, as well as throughout their school day.
If you know your child struggles with organization, I suggest you work with his or her teacher(s) to develop the following:
- A plan of regular communication between home and school
- A plan for homework and school work completion
- A system to notify students of missing assignments
- A strategy for completing large assignments, and
- A weekly or bi- weekly plan for cleaning out book bags, folders, desks, and lockers.
My best advice is to not wait for the first report card before putting such systems in place, especially if the child’s past school years have proven that issues related to academic success often stem from poor organizational skills.
Finally, remember that good school-home communication is the key to a successful year for students. Therefore, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and work as a team to determine the most effective plan for meeting the specific needs of each student. Furthermore, adults (teachers and parents) must acknowledge that we don’t have "cookie-cutter students," that not all children have the same learning and behavioral style or move at an identical academic pace. For the most part, however if parents, students, and teachers are willing to work together, the student will win every time.
The beginning of the school year brings excitement, nervous feelings, and hopefully a fresh start for everyone in the school community. I encourage you and your family to attempt to make each start of the school year an opportunity to gain a new appreciation for lifelong learning and individual student success.
Tamu Lucero is the principal at Worthington Hills Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. She is a member of the Professional Advisory Board of National Center for Learning Disabilities. Tamu has a Doctorate of Education Degree from Ohio University and a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from The Ohio State University.