We often know the staff well and feel comfortable going in to talk to teachers to sort things out. We’ve been to sports days, concerts, helped out in classes, on school trips and volunteered at sausage sizzles. We are part of the school community… and now our older child is moving on to an Intermediate / Secondary school we know little about.
Do parents need to keep up with what’s happening as our children grow into young adults?
Do we encourage them to grow into self-reliant, independent teenagers if we step back and leave them to navigate the complex world of secondary school on their own?
These are the questions we parents tussle with. While we do need to remember this is their big adventure and much of our role will involve “cheering from the side-lines,” information is empowering.
Finding out how the system works allows you to confidently use, and support your child to use, the many services in place that offer help and support.
When parents and schools work together our teenagers have the best possible opportunity to succeed.
Schools can’t do it on their own – working together everyone has a much better chance of coping with all those challenges and choices ahead. If you have any concerns about your child it is a good idea to let your child's Year Level Dean know. It is better for the new school to be fully aware your child’s specific needs.
Always ring for an appointment first. Schools are very busy places and you want the opportunity to talk with people who are in a position to focus on what you are saying. If your child is genuinely unhappy with their teacher and it is affecting their behaviour and school results, then make contact with the school for an appointment with the Head of Department or the year level Dean.
If you outline what you want to discuss, then the Dean can include other support staff if appropriate. If your child has specific learning needs the HOD of Learning Support may be part of your meeting. If your child is having difficulty with anxiety, a particular child etc. the school counsellor may well be asked to the meeting. These people can be hugely valuable in helping your child settle happily into a new school. They are a great link to the classroom teachers too and will work closely with them to help your child in a wide range of ways.
Remember that secondary school teachers are people too and that generally they are an empathetic group of people who are keen to make a difference. Any discussions around your child are not about winning or losing. It doesn’t matter who comes out on top or who has the dominant voice. It is so important to remember that meetings with teachers are about finding a solution everyone can live with and one that benefits your child.
If you having challenges in your family life – illness, court cases, divorce, financial strain etc. it is a good idea to advise a school counsellor. They can keep an eye on any impact this may be having on your child at school and put you in touch with any of the specialist services or programmes available. They are able to talk confidentially with you. Sometimes they will ask staff to minimise homework or offer TLC to a particular student but they will not always say why.
Preparation is a great way of giving your child the best possible chance of a great start in a new school.
Handy Hints for preparing your child for secondary school
- Talk about the new school in a positive way – go for a walk around it and just familiarise your child a little with this new environment.
- Do you know any older students that might be a good role model for your child?
- Invite them over for a relaxed chat about what sort of things your child can expect in those first few weeks and answer any questions you have. They might prove to be a helpful mentor for your child at school too.
- Smooth out any travel anxieties ahead of time – go over which bus they will take, streets they will walk in advance. Can you organise a friend to go with them if they haven’t done this already?
- Practice routines in your family life that will make it easier for your child to do homework e.g. a regular meal time and a regular homework slot Monday – Thursday.
- Make sure your child has the correct shoes and uniform. A positive impression is a great way to start in a new place.
- Most schools have very specific guidelines on hair styles / colour, jewellery, piercings, tattoo’s and cell phone use. Find out what they are and make sure your child knows too.
- Find out the Deans name – talk to your child about what their role is in school.
- Go online and find out some of the sports / clubs that may be available.
The most important thing is to keep talking – keep those lines of communication open.
Really listen to what your son or daughter tells you – try to stay calm in front of them. I often hear students say “I can’t tell mum / dad – it will really upset them and I can’t deal with that too!”
Secondary schools have so many opportunities available to students. Many of which you may not be aware of. I remember my son struggling with maths in Year 11.
I rang the HOD maths to enquire about hiring a Year 13 student for after school tuition. He was happy to give me a name but did I realise they ran lunchtime tuition classes? They advertised them in the daily notices but my boy looked completely surprised when I told him!
So keep an eye on the notices, read the online information and stay involved. This is another exciting learning adventure for your child – and you’re about to learn a whole lot more too.
Julie Mulcahy - Learning Enhancement Westlake Girls High School