September – full of hope and promise
For all the people who are involved with school, college or university – be it as a parent, student or teacher – September is a special month – full of hope, promise, anticipation and anxiety. A good time to reflect, after all the anticipation of the summer. No matter how good or bad the summer has gone, the start of the autumn term is a time to look back and also, a time to look forward. The memory of what you have enjoyed and also what you could have done better can be used to plan for the future. For young people, they are also full of anticipation and are usually excited about going back to school – either because they are looking forward to seeing their friends, or new teachers, or about a new subject they will start. There is always something that excites the young person about the prospect of going back to school or college in September. The only exception is in cases where the young person has some serious issues and is not at all motivated or interested in school, which is a rather sad but a very unusual development.
Awareness, action and behaviours precedes achievement
One of the excellent opportunities that the beginning of the academic year in September has to offer is a fresh start – a time to establish a success-oriented-approach, right from the beginning. One of the main indications of success for a student is academic achievement, which is usually measured in terms of the exam results they obtain at the end of it. The thing with exam results is that, like all other achievements, it does not come in isolation; it is a product of a series of processes and events. These can be put into three main categories: awareness, action (persistent action) and behaviour. I will not go too deep into explaining each of these three key areas in this blog, but I will provide a more detailed explanation of each in a future article. One thing I will mention here is the importance of establishing a good routine and sticking to it.
Routine, habit and ritual
The word ‘habit’ can be perceived to be a strong word but it is very important in order to achieve anything significant. I will actually go a little further and say that the habit needs to turn into some sort of ritual so that it becomes second nature to the person doing it. I have had the benefit of meeting and working with many successful students in my teaching career and I can see that there is a pattern in terms of how they behave and how they do things on a regular basis. What I have found is that young people actually like routine more than we adults think. At the start, it may be difficult to get a young person to do something; however, if we are persistent in reminding them and encouraging them to do it, after some time it becomes routine. A period of about 30 days is a good time to establish a routine and to turn it into habit. At the start, it is unnatural for us to do certain things that we are not used to and we have to more or less force ourselves to do it. Once a routine has been established, the reluctance goes, we do that thing naturally and we start to feel there is something strange when we do not.
I will give you just a couple of practical examples here. My son does not like to eat much in the morning – all he wants to eat before leaving home is just a piece of toast. I know that in order for him to have the energy and strength to take him through the morning session at school he needs to eat something more substantial than just a piece of toast before leaving home. It was difficult to encourage him to have either porridge or cereal and in addition an egg. After some time of persistence, it has now become natural to him and he asks for his porridge and egg if we do not give it to him on time. We had to negotiate on such matters as the consistency of his porridge – how runny it is, which cereal he’ll have or if it is a boiled or scrambled egg, but that’s ok. We got there in the end and I stopped making his porridge too runny or using the wrong type of milk whilst making his scrambled egg! Also my daughter did not like doing her times tables, but again, after some time of persistence and encouragement she started to do it on her own and now, she will often come to me to ask me to test her on her times tables. Another good one is that my son knows he is not allowed to play computer games until he plays the piano first and now he plays the piano first, before asking me for the iPad.
A few practical suggestions
I will suggest just a few things to do at the start of the academic year as it is vital to make a good start.
- Get your son or daughter into the habit of aiming to arrive at school 15 minutes before the final due time. Being on time – earlier than scheduled goes for everything else and not just arriving at school. Being on time is absolutely vital to success. It eliminates or at least reduces undue stress and anxiety. It also sends the right message to others about the child
- Pack for them or get them to pack the schoolbag the previous evening. Have everything ready to go for the following morning and do not wait until the morning to do it
- Try and get your son or daughter to go to bed at a regular time in the evening, Due to activities they may be doing regularly in the evening, it may mean that they have to go to bed a little later on one or two particular evenings. If you can’t avoid this try and manage it well so that they don’t go to bed more than 30 minutes or so later on that odd evening or two when they have activities lined up
- Have a programme – with consistency in terms of the time and days of the week when homework assignments are done. Revision should also be done consistently and not left until the last minute when the tests or exams are so close
- It is important that there is a place set aside in the home for your child to study and it is usually better if it is not mainly in the child’s bedroom. Try and make that place comfortable and well-resourced for studying – with things like a desk and chair of the right height, a good lamp and other basic things that will make learning enjoyable and also effective for them
- Diet is very important. It is more effective if your child gets used to the idea of not eating too late in the evening, drinking water and not sugary drinks and mostly having an apple or a banana when they are studying and are in need of a boost of energy. The occasional chocolate is ok but it is better not to snack on sugary drinks and chocolates all the time!
- Try and get to know your son or daughter’s teachers and establish good communication and understanding with them. It makes them look at your child in more positive light and issues are avoided or resolved easily if and when they occur
- Make your child adopt the attitude that the teacher is usually right. Most teachers are competent and reasonable professionals who are doing their best. However, there is a significant minority who are not up to it; those ones are interested in ticking boxes and just plodding along. Converse with your child a lot and get them to understand that they must always listen to the teacher and adopt a good attitude. In cases when they think or perhaps know that the teacher is wrong, they should nod their head and perhaps even smile, but not in an offensive way. They can always speak to you about that particular matter at a later stage and you can look to seek an alternative opinion to solve the problem via a different channel
- Establish good communication with your son or daughter and make them feel comfortable in speaking to you about issues to do with school and their education as a whole
- Establish a good routine with your son or daughter right from the start. Understand that it takes time for a routine to turn into a habit. Don’t give up and be persistent until it sticks and becomes a habit. If you need to change a few bad habits into good ones; do it one at a time and understand that it takes up to 30 days to change just one habit
- Encourage your son or daughter to see school as a good place to be in and support him or her to be happy there and to make the best of the opportunity school and the whole education experience have to offer.
- Finally don’t give in to blackmail. The notion of “It’s so unfair – my friends are having it, why can’t I?” This is quite a common phrase by young people and it applies to things like asking to have a TV in their bedroom, carrying a mobile phone at an early age and so on.
If you feel your son or daughter is not quite at an age when he or she should carry a mobile phone, do not give in to pressure of them telling you that other children have them. Explain that the other children are from different families, and you do not consider it the right thing to do at this present time. Establish that right from the start so he or she knows where you stand. No, no, no; a mobile phone mustn’t be used as a calculator and be concerned about a teacher that allows that.
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