One of the biggest dilemmas for parents is how to support their child in their education. Placing them in a good school is a starting point but then what? As parents, we are a little unsure about how schools work and we do not want to confuse our children by teaching them in a way that is at odds with the modern teaching methods of most schools. We know that good teachers are the key, but parents have the biggest influence of how children behave. Children will watch and copy what their parents do, so if you never pick up a book or newspaper and read, do not be surprised if your children never do. They will model your behaviour in so many ways so what parents do and how they do it determines how successful their children will be. Children are not born with special talent or gifts. They develop these attributes as they grow. Imagine that every child has the potential to be the next Einstein or the next Mozart. The young brain is a muscle that can be trained by parents, teachers, peers or self.
Sir Malcolm Barber, a leading educator in the UK said that “talent is a myth. Those countries that believe some are born smart or bright while others aren’t, and reinforce that through the education system, will never be among the top performers”. This may help to explain the success of Asian nations in mathematics, and how their children excel even in other educational systems. The view is reinforced in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, where he suggests that to become an expert at an activity requires on average 10,000 hours of practice. We cannot rely on natural-born talent but we can build talent and skills if we work at it. As a parent, it is important to reinforce this whenever your children find something difficult. Carol Dweck, a renowned educational psychologist suggests that we should use the word “yet” when your children cannot do something. If they say they cannot swim, simply add the magic word and remind them that they cannot swim yet, but with instruction and practice, they will be able to swim in the future. It's the same with every subject and every skill. Having the idea that anything is possible, given hard work, good teaching and perseverance is probably the most important message that we can teach our children.
Being involved without interfering is another key to supporting a child through school. Asking questions and taking an interest in what they have learned at school that day is one way to show that you care. Do not ask them what they did – ask them what they learned: it is an important emphasis. Probably the best way to get them to do their homework is for you to do your work (we all have homework don’t we?) next to them. As a parent, there is nothing more rewarding than sitting quietly next to your children whilst we all work together.
Research increasingly suggests that academic achievement is boosted by learning a musical instrument. The development of the brain during this time, allied with an appreciation of dedication and practice, means that the reason that intelligent students play instruments is because learning to play helped make them that way. At Compass International School, Doha we are privileged to have a partnership with the Juilliard School in New York to help students excel in music and thus academically. Our curriculum has been written in collaboration with our teachers and experts at Juilliard. Juilliard help us find instrumental teachers through their alumni network and bring experts over to our schools to run workshops and presentations.
Even in this modern age, your child is most likely going to be judged on their performance in tests. So, helping them develop good study habits is essential. Study should be active; reading a text and highlighting it is not study. Our motto is “If it’s easy, it’s not doing any good”. Encourage them to be active in their learning by making mind-maps of their study material; doing past examination papers; answering all the questions in their textbooks they have not yet done; make flash cards of key words; or get them to explain their work to you. The more you can do to make study active and more interesting the better their chance of succeeding in examinations.
The other things parents can do fall into the “obvious but needed to be stated”. Whilst it is easy to believe that it does no harm for your holiday to spill over into term time, teachers cannot teach them if they are not in school. Most children, when asked thought that 90% attendance in schools was very good but that is one day of learning lost very 2 weeks. Equally, being late to school gives them the powerful message that school is just not important. Make sure they go to bed at a decent time and take their smart phones off them so that they are not distracted. Make sure they eat well and arrive at school ready to learn with the right books and equipment for the day’s lessons. Sounds simple, but helping them prepare their bag for school the night before does show that you care about this and encourages them to learn good organisational skills.
We are not born with all the skills and knowledge that we need in our modern, changing world but most of us are fortunate to be born with the physical and mental potential to be whatever we want to be. The job of teachers and parents is the same. We must inspire our children to learn, to persevere when it becomes difficult and take on the challenge of being better each and every day. Compass International School believes that by working together in a three-way partnership – parents, children, teachers – we can be ambitious for every child and help them create their future for themselves.
Simon Porter and Terry Creissen
Simon Porter is Director of Learning and Terry Creissen is Executive Principal at Compass International School. Their schools in Doha run special seminars for parents to explain their philosophy of “Be Ambitious” and provide practical advice on how to bring out the best in the partnership between school and home. To find out more about their leading edge programmes, contact the school by email: firstname.lastname@example.org