These are challenging times and I think we can all agree that there should be more hours in the day. Work, commuting, errands, cooking, staying on top of the household chores, eating, spending time with family and being informed about what’s happening in our communities and in the world are just some of the things that occupy my time. Our children’s future and their education should be a top priority for everyone in our community, not just parents. There are so many ways we can all be more involved in our country’s next generation, but I like to tell people that the best way to get involved and advocate is to ask questions. Ensuring we have an educated citizenry and bright future is a shared and collective responsibility that falls upon each of us. Here are some questions we can all ask:
Ask adults how the child in your life is doing. Asking the child’s family about their education is always important; you can not only get some important answers, but also a roadmap to how you can become a more helpful ally in building a great next generation. Find out what their strengths and challenges are and make a plan to improve things from where you are. Can you ask the child’s teacher about their performance and how the child compares to other children in their class? Or about what teaching and education methods they’re using? Or, best of all, ask what questions you should be asking or what information they want to share with you. Like adults, children are not the same, even those growing up in the same household which makes each of us uniquely great. Abilities differ widely, but we should always ask about them and identify ways to involve yourself in solutions.
Ask a child about specifics. How easily we forget what our own school experiences were like! Perhaps you don’t remember what it was like to have every adult asking, “how was your day at school?,” but the answers you’ll get (or won’t get) are a pretty clear sign that it’s not the most effective question to ask. Instead, you have to ask very specific questions. If you aren’t the most knowledgeable about the child’s day, ask general questions about what the best thing about the day was, ask about specific school subjects and what they’re learning about there, if they found anything particularly difficult or annoying, what their friends are like. Like with anything else, asking a question that really only allows for one word answers will get just that. Even though my nephew is a college senior, he knows that “good” is never a sufficient answer. While you don’t need to probe like a detective you do need to ask your child to elaborate on the information they are sharing and remember to be fully present during the conversation. Children know when they have your undivided attention and when they do not. We have to be thoughtful with our children and give them opportunities to give full and meaningful responses about what they are doing and how it makes them feel.
Ask what you can do. We can always use a little help in all areas of our lives- and sometimes even asking people if you can help is a huge motivator. If you want the special young person in your life to succeed at school and beyond, try asking them what you can do to help them find more time or interest to study or read more. Maybe you can ask the parents in your life what support you can give them to help give young people more focus in their studies. And have you asked the teachers in your life how you can help make their classrooms even more effective at churning out the leaders of tomorrow? Most families could use some support, many teachers need help purchasing school supplies and every student could benefit from an encouraging word. Let’s not be afraid to make some offers.
Recently, I visited a 5th grade class in the Watts area of Los Angeles. I left inspired and encouraged by the wisdom, character and intellect displayed by each student in the class. Instead of learning of the latest crisis on the news, actually make a point to visit a school and spend quality time with students. Not only does it take a village to raise children, more importantly it takes a great society to turn out future leaders. I spend a lot of time at education conferences, which means I get a lot of time with parents and educators, but I also spend a lot of time listening to what speakers have to say. I also spend a lot of time writing about ways we can instill lessons in young people, for which I find myself doing a pretty good amount of research. I’ve also learned that young people will rise or fall to the expectations set for them. But at the end of the day, there are no silver bullet solutions. If there were a sure-fire way to make all students great, we’d have done it long ago. The reality is the best way to make change is to ask how we can build it. I’m always surprised at how some empathy, an offer of help and some genuine interest in each other is often the biggest step to success.
Being a man or woman is a matter of birth, but being a man or woman who makes a difference is a matter of choice. Choose to be a difference maker!