Transforming parents into teachers, part 1: starting with us

Since my son started kindergarten at a Honolulu public school, I’ve been reading books about the public education system and effective teaching. I read books like Ron Clark’s “The End of Molasses Classes,” which offers 101 tips to help children succeed and is filled with anecdotes about teacher creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm; and Wendy Kopp’s “A Chance to Make History,” which highlights teachers and schools that are succeeding against the odds.

One of the best books I’ve come across so far, that lays out things that teachers can do to become better teachers, is Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College” (2010). It’s practical, it’s easy to read, and it comes with a DVD of video clips that illustrate some of the techniques. It takes a nut-and-bolts approach, from planning lessons and laying out the classroom, to delivering lessons and creating a classroom culture.

I felt so inspired by the book that I wanted to use some of Lemov’s techniques, both to help my son achieve and to help me become a better parent. I decided to see how parents could adapt these effective teaching techniques at home.

I focused on three areas in which we as parents can become teachers: 1. techniques to change how we interact with our children; 2. techniques to set high expectations for our children; and 3. techniques to help our children become better readers.

It all starts with us. We need to see ourselves as teachers.

So to set us on the path to becoming teachers, not just parents, here are 9 techniques that we can use to help our children achieve (and become a little more disciplined), just by changing how we act at home:

1. Sweat the Details (technique #40). Create an orderly study area for your children. Clean up clutter, keep school supplies organized, and stack books neatly.

2. What to Do (technique #37). Give specific directions that tell children what they need to do. Instead of a vague “Pay attention!” trying listing the specific actions they can take, like “Please turn around, put your feet under the table, put the toy down, and look at me.”

3. Strong Voice (technique #38). Show that you have authority with these five principles: 1. Use fewer words; it shows that you are confident and prepared 2. Don’t talk over others; it means that what you’re saying is important. 3. Ignore excuses like “But I wasn’t doing anything!” by simply repeating your directions. 4. Square up and stand still. You can even stand in a more formal pose, with your hands behind your back, to show that your words are serious. 5. Speak slowly and quietly; it shows that you are calm and in control.

4. No Warnings (technique #42). If children misbehave, address the problem quickly, early, and proportionately. Giving a warning tells them that a certain amount of disobedience is okay. Instead, calmly use minor interventions, like asking them to repeat a task, requiring them to apologize, or taking away or reducing a small privilege.

5. Positive Framing (technique #43). If children misbehave, respond consistently and positively. Talk about what should happen next, telling them what they need to do right now. Assume that the behavior was unintentional and challenge them to do better.

6. Precise Praise (technique #44). Acknowledge them when children meet your expectations, and praise them when they are exceptional. Praising them for doing what is expected shows that your expectations are low.

7. Warm/Strict (technique #45). Be warm (caring, and concerned) and strict (firm and relentless) at the same time. Explain to children why you are doing what you are doing. Distinguish between behavior and people, such as saying, “Your behavior is inconsiderate,” instead of “You’re inconsiderate.” Show them that consequences are temporary (you won’t hold grudges).

8. Emotional Constancy (technique #47). Expect children to occasionally get upset, but remain calm and consistent.

9. Stretch It (technique #3). Look for opportunities to stretch learning. For example, in everyday conversations, ask for a better word; after watching a movie, ask about the characters and settings, and compare them to other movies.

Can using the techniques of effective teachers make us better parents? Can thinking of ourselves as teachers first help us be more patient and less frustrated?

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