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Nurturing a Responsible Attitude Toward Learning

October 5, 2009
Times Observer
BY LINDA SWANSON, RETIRED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL

In a September Post-Journal article, a senior at Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School, Morgan Clark, stated: “School is my job, my mother has always told me that I’m in school to learn – pretty much the most important thing as you’re going through high school is your academics.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’d like to extend that thought to elementary and middle school!

Yet, as one continues to read this refreshing article you discover that involvement in music, sports and outside of school - church activities - have been a factor in nurturing this focused, responsible learner. Many individuals as well as experiences play a significant role in nurturing – better known as holding on and letting go – our children. How could we, as parents, ever do this job without extended family, teachers, coaches, clergy, music teachers and friends? Actually, it takes a whole community.

Sometimes I avoid articles that boast the ten best ways to accomplish something. I guess it’s because I feel like I could never do it all! Perhaps, this time, any helpful advice I might have could surface more like the three to four points in a motivational speech. Hopefully, you’ll pick them out and use them as they seem helpful. There’s probably nothing new here but possibly a different way to approach a significant impact we can have on our blossoming learners.

So, how do we help our children become responsible for their learning? Begin, in their early years to show an interest. Take the time, daily, to look in their book bag, review all information that comes home from school with your child. Your interest, in their job, breeds responsibility. This was probably the first thing my mom did with me when I came home – it must have been easy for her, she was a “stay at home mom”. It is not a secret, nor untrue, that our lives are at a faster pace these days, even for mothers that don’t work outside the home. Quite honestly, that pace needs to include time and talk (actions that breed commitment) about their school day. It doesn’t have to be the first thing you do when the family converges after a busy day but it should not be forgotten. Do you remember the most popular question at your dinner table – “What did you learn at school today?”? This broad question only elicits broad answers like: “Nothing.”. Even the very worthwhile question – “What was your favorite activity at school today?” becomes repetitive. Mix it up with some of these as well as your own adjectives: funniest (or fun), interesting, most valuable, awesome, most difficult, disappointing, best….. part about school today. Don’t use all of them daily just use one or two as starters. Try to make your time with them more of a conversation than a question and answer period. Extend their actually classroom recounting to: academic support classrooms, art, library, music and physical education. It never hurts to keep their interest by asking about their friends, lunch, and recess. Tie your questions into the papers in their backpack. Commend them for their good work, support them when it appears a particular subject or portion of math or science or a test was particularly difficult. Return any forms or permission slips promptly, it simply saves you and the teacher time later on. Continue your and your child’s level of responsibility by communicating with his/her teacher(s). Let your child’s teacher know you saw the weak area and want to help support his/her efforts to improve their knowledge. All of our technology, voice-mail and e-mail, are quick, efficient ways that cater to our lifestyles. Teachers also love and are encouraged to hear about something that was particularly interesting or fun that happened at school that made it all the way home. Share the fact that you have communicated with their teacher with your child. Having everyone “on the same page” is so important in nurturing everyone’s level of responsibility for learning. It works for promoting responsible behavior as well. Even though this article isn’t about behavior we all have to admit, and I couldn’t let it go unsaid, the choice of responsible behavior and accountable work habits promote greater learning potential.

Another lesson, in responsibility, when nurtured at a young age, is good attendance habits. This valuable life long practice should include promptness as well. If school is one’s job then being on time and missing school only when you are truly sick are two important qualities that warrant fostering. An elevated fever, upset stomach or a non-stop runny nose were about the only viable excuses in our home for an absence from school or work. After all, how you think you feel at 7 a.m. often quickly changes once one is focused on the activities at school along with the bonus of social time with classmates. If attendance becomes a problem contact your child’s teacher. The school nurse is always happy to support you in this challenge. When in doubt, it probably doesn’t hurt to put the student on the bus and follow it up with a call to someone at school who will anonymously check it out.

The last action I am suggesting for nurturing a responsible attitude towards school is one that we hear nearly as often as the plea to read to your child, get involved. Your child needs to know, by your actions, that giving their best at school is their responsibility as well as something that is important to you. Attending school functions in which your children are involved is a critical step in this process. These events actually showcase their efforts brought out through responsible actions. Parent teacher conferences are so important to everyone involved. At times, including your child in such a conference truly sets the stage for the team approach that responsibility sometimes requires. Volunteer to work in your child’s classroom, if your schedule is inconvenient for this type of participation offer sometime outside of school on clerical projects. Send in extra recycled supplies requested by the teacher for a particular project to support a classmate who may not have that particular resource.

Are your memories of responsibility toward learning good ones? Such a variety of feelings surface with that question. I remember really missing this boat on a 5th grade book report! If you wish some of your actions would have been different, stop there and make a difference for your child. They won’t all be cloned as a Morgan Clark, but with responsible attitudes towards learning they can reach all that they are capable of. That’s what makes nurturing fulfilling.

Linda Swanson, retired Southwestern Elementary Principal. She earned her B.A. degree from Houghton College and M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Fredonia State. Mrs. Swanson is a lifelong resident of southwestern New York State. Her early teaching experience was at Randolph Elementary. She currently enjoys substitute teaching and volunteering at Z.E.A.L., an after school tutoring program at Zion Covenant church.

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