3 Mistakes to Avoid When Talking with Your Tween

Middle school is a challenging time for kids, and talking with your tween about what’s going on in their life is especially challenging for parents. Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, explains the challenge with pets. Infants and toddlers are puppies—you can cuddle and hug them endlessly. But teenagers are like cats—they avoid you most of the time and only occasionally seek out your attention, but when you try to touch them, they run away.

Great Schools details the top three mistakes parents make when they try to talk to their middle schooler.

  1. Waiting for a Crisis:When there’s a crisis, tensions are high and your teen is less likely to open up to you. Instead, talk early and often before there’s a crisis so you have built some trust and rapport into your relationship already when a problem arises.
  2. Taking Too Direct an Approach:Even adults are not likely to respond well to “Let’s sit down and talk.” Spend time with your child doing something they enjoy and use that opportunity to let conversations happen in a more relaxed atmosphere.
  3. Letting the Opportunity Pass:While tweens and teens tend to push their parents away, that doesn’t mean they don’t want you involved in their life. Be ready to drop what you are doing when they want to talk—giving your child genuine interest when they want it helps build a relationship that will allow them to approach you when the conversations are tough.

Avoiding these mistakes won’t eliminate the grunts, “fines,” and “nothings” that your middle schooler responds to questions with, but they will help you build the foundation for the occasional meaningful conversation throughout their teen years.

Help Your Child Spring Ahead

Illinois PTA has often highlighted the resourcesand researchdone by Learning Heroes. As the annual state assessment, now known as the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), approaches, Learning Heroes has released a new resource for families called Spring Ahead.

Spring Ahead provides tools and information to help families support their child as they get ready for the annual state assessment. Among the resources are:

There is also a send-home PDF flyer in both English and Spanishthat summarizes the Spring Ahead information and directs families to the Learning Heroes website. Help your child Spring Aheadby visiting the site today.

Creating a Social Justice Reading Group for Children and Their Families

Seeing an increase in intolerance shortly after the 2016 election, National Education Policy Center(NEPC) director Kevin Welner and associate director Michelle Renée Valladares were discussing how to address the issue with their young children. They decided to collaborate other parents and their children to create an intergenerational social justice reading group. The aim was to provide a learning experience to counterbalance the negative political comments about people of color, immigrants, and other historically disenfranchised groups.

They decided to share their experience running the reading group with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project. Through this collaboration came a new Reading for Social Justice guide.

The guide provides everything a group of parents or teachers need to set up a social justice reading group for families, covering:

  • Things to think about before starting your reading group
  • How to organize your reading group
  • How to set content and literacy goals for your group
  • How to select what books to read
  • How to run your reading group meetings

The guide shares the experiences of three reading groups from Colorado, Texas, and South Carolina. There is a recommended book list and places to find other similar lists. The appendices provide information for teachers on laying the groundwork for a reading group, a planning workbook, and a sample teaching strategy.

There are benefits in creating a reading group for both adults and children for everyone involved, including improvements in school climate, in family and community engagement, and in reading and language skills. Other benefits are:

  • Reading groups support children in processing current events and hard truths about the world around them.
  • Reading groups help children situate present events within a larger historical context of social injustice.
  • Reading groups facilitate social emotional learning.
  • Reading groups develop critical thinking and literacy skills.
  • Reading groups build family and community engagement.
  • Family engagement bolsters students’ academic performance.

Check out Teaching Tolerance’s Reading for Social Justice guide and start planning for your reading group.

New Report Digs Into the Causes of the Disconnect Between How Families Think Their Child is Achieving and How the Child is Actually Achieving

Last year, Learning Heroes released the results of their parent survey that showed that nearly 90% of parents regardless of race, income, geography, and income levels believe that their child is working at or above their grade level. Yet national data shows that only about one-third of students are actually performing that well. This year, Learning Heroes surveyed parents to dig into the reasons behind that disconnect.

Their research indicated that there are three key drivers of this disconnect:

  1. Parenting styles drive how parents engage in their child’s education.
  2. Report cards sit at the center of the disconnect.
  3. The disconnect is solvable.

Effect of Parenting Styles

Learning Heroes’ research discovered that there are four different parenting styles regarding how they engage with their child’s education. These four styles can be used by teachers and administrators to inform their communication and engagement with families. The four styles are:

  1. A-OKs:About 25% of parents are confident that their child is performing in the classroom and on their annual assessment and use both to track achievement. The survey indicates that these families are open to more information, but feel like they have what they need.
  2. Problem Solvers:About 22% of parents believe their child is struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. These parents already spend a lot of time communicating with teachers and trying to address challenges at school. For these parents, the disconnect is a secondary concern because they already know their child is struggling. The survey indicates that they would welcome more engagement and know that there is more they could be doing.
  3. Protectors:23% of parents have high expectations for their child, but it is a false sense of security since they are more likely to rely on report card grades than other parents do. These families report the highest level of involvement, with 40% saying they attended a PTA or other school parent organization meeting in the last year.[emphasis added] Information about the performance gaps gets their attention and makes them question their assumptions. These families are very interested in more information and in engaging with the school to close the disconnect for their child.
  4. Accepters:The remaining 30% of parents are more hands-off. They are less college-oriented and believe their child is “fine.” This group of families is the least engaged of the four groups, and they are skeptical about the disconnect. These families will be the hardest to engage on this topic and on getting them to be more involved in their child’s education, and as a result, will need targeted strategies to reach them.

The Role of Report Cards

A second key finding of the Learning Heroes survey is the role that report cards play in creating the disconnect. While teachers have many different data points about how a student is actually learning and performing, families tend to rely mainly on report cards. The survey shows that parents see report cards as the most important tool for understanding how their child is achieving, and that’s not surprising given that report cards are the one piece of information that they reliably receive.

In contrast, teachers consider report cards only the third most important source of information on how a student is doing, behind regular communication between families and the teacher and graded work on assignments, tests, and quizzes. The reason for this is that teachers indicate that report card grades also reflect progress, effort, and participation in class as well as mastery of the material.

While 90% of teachers report that it’s important to communicate with families about how their child is doing academically and to tell those families when their child is struggling, they also report a number of barriers to providing that information. Among them are:

  • 71% say that “parents blame the teacher when their child isn’t performing at the appropriate level.”
  • 51% say “parents might not believe the teacher, especially if that information contrasts with what the parent sees at home.”
  • More than 20% say “parents could elevate the matter to the school principal, which could create problems for the teacher.”
  • Nearly 25% say “teachers are not given the proper support from school administrators to relay this type of information.”
  • 53% of teachers say they have no formal training or workshops on how to have difficult conversations with parents, and only 29% are very satisfied with their support in these situations.
  • Teachers are more likely to contact families about behavior problems (82%) than about academic problems such as lack of progress over the grading period (79%), dropping more than one letter grade (73%), receiving low scores on standardized tests throughout the year (71%), or failing to meet grade-level standards on annual state tests (70%). Middle school teachers are less likely to reach out to families for any of these reasons than elementary school teachers.

Solving the Disconnect

The Learning Heroes survey also provides some direction on how schools and PTAs can help solve this disconnect between how families believe their child is performing and their actual performance. A key part of solving that disconnect is sharing information.

The survey indicated that the 88% of parents who think their child is performing at grade level in math declines to 61% when told their child has a B in math and didn’t meet expectations on the state test. That percentage declines even further to 52% when they are also told that their child’s school received an overall performance rating of C.

In addition, when families learn about the disconnect, the percentage that agree or strongly agree that report cards are the best way to know how their child is doing academically declines from 60% to 34%. Even so, the majority of parents when informed of the disconnect are more likely to see how that information could apply to “parents in low-performing schools” or “other parents at my child’s school” than to “me and my child.”

Finally, Learning Heroes developed a tool called From Puzzle to Plan: A Family Worksheet that should be available soon. The worksheet puts a grade level indicator based on test scores side-by-side with feedback from the parent, teacher, and child. The tool also provides families with questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference and references to tailored, skills-based resources they can use to help their child at home. The worksheet is designed to help families engage in more productive conversations with teachers about their child.