In two important ways, parents are the primary educators of children. You have the earliest and most extensive exposure to your kids in those crucial years of initial development. And, by far, you have the most vested interest in their overall well-being. You have both the access and the motivation, therefore, to create the best possible conditions for the learning and growth that will follow. While well-run schools can certainly have a meaningful influence on a person’s life, it is the family that establishes the initial foundation.
It is with this in mind that I offer “Ten (Big) Questions” for parents to ask themselves, at base, what they most want for their children, and how they see schools as complementing those aspirations.
What do you think would constitute or represent a “good life” for your children as expressed in their adult lives? (e.g. A well-paying job? A good relationship? Spiritual fulfilment? A passion pursued? Failures overcome? Good health?) What elements, or contingencies, would you NOT wish upon your child in their adult lives?
What are the most important character traits that you would hope that your son or daughter embody and express as an adult? (e.g. Compassion? Curiosity? Tenacity? Resilience? Courage? Single-Mindedness? Integrity? Exuberance? Flair? Global Awareness?) Which traits would you hope are NOT manifested in their behaviour as adults?
What specific and intentional things have you done, as a parent or a family, to lay the groundwork to enable your son or daughter to acquire the elements and character traits that you have identified as important? (e.g. What “rules and conventions” are operative within your household? Which adults have you intentionally introduced into the lives of your children? What special experiences have you engineered for your children with their future in mind? What responsibilities have you given your children? What are the consequences when these responsibilities are not met?)
What, in your view, does it mean for schools to “educate” your children? (e.g. To give them background knowledge and skills? To help them mature socially? To accredit and certify them for higher education? To help them discover who they are? To build their inner confidence by affirming their achievements?)
In what specific ways do you expect schools to complement what you, as a family, hold as important regarding the total education of your child? Which domains do you think it appropriate that schools address, and which domains do you think are best addressed elsewhere?
On a 1-10 scale, how important is it that your son or daughter:
be “happy” at school in the sense of having friends, liking his or her teachers, and feeling confident and affirmed?
become intellectually and physically challenged at school, even if exposure to these challenges can sometimes be uncomfortable?
discover and express their particular strength or ability (e.g. dance, mathematics, scientific inquiry, art, etc.) at school?
be exposed to a broad range of knowledge (e.g. geography, history, literature, art, current affairs, science, philosophy, etc.), even though some of these may not be of initial interest?
be able to express themselves clearly in written form? In spoken form (i.e. in the sense of giving an oral report and making a speech)?
be able to master basic mathematical operations?
become knowledgeable about the human body and physically active at school?
What specific things do you think your school does well in complementing the values of your family and\or the goals that you want your children to achieve? What things do you think it would be appropriate for your school to do to better complement the values of your family and\or the goals that you want your children to achieve?
What personality traits best describe your child? (e.g. Gregarious? Confident? Quiet? Curious? Anxious? Lethargic? Uninspired? Leader? Follower? Intellectually precocious? Innocent? Socially Advanced?)
How would you describe your child’s current learning profile? (e.g. Highly competent and intellectually precocious? Moderately competent and intellectually curious? Intellectually capable with potential to blossom? Moderately to exceptionally capable, but not operating at his or her full potential? Learning challenged?)
Given your child’s personality traits and learning profile, what kind of educational environment do you think he or she needs to feel secure and to thrive?
Becoming clear in your answers to these questions will help you to become more proactive and intentional in creating and supporting a worthwhile education for your child.
Dr. Ted Spear is the founding Principal of two independent schools in British Columbia, Canada. Using research on contemporary educational innovation, and drawing on 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in public and independent schools, he is currently writing a book on the future of grade school education.