Children spend an average of about 32 hours a week in school learning academic skills, how to negotiate interpersonal relationships and, as they age, planning for their future. Identifying the experiences that promote student success brings parents and teachers into an important partnership aimed at ensuring child wellness and, when needed, support for a child’s challenges. As children and their parents begin the school year, it’s useful to review some high-impact practices, derived from the science of psychology, for the classroom.

Convey realistic expectations

“Identifying the experiences that promote student success brings parents and teachers into an important partnership aimed at ensuring child wellness…”

Parent and teacher expectations affect students’ motivation and their learning outcomes. Appropriate expectations communicate high but realistic standards for behavior and achievement. These standards should be age appropriate, but also challenging, and convey the message of never giving up on helping a child reach his or her goals. Parents and school personnel can make clear that they are open to the various ways kids can show them that they are learning. Parents can ask teachers what they expect children to know academically and how they think children should behave at the beginning, middle and end of year to develop a road map. If a child is behind or needs additional challenge, seeking support is essential.

Offer smart feedback

Providing children with clear, explanatory and timely feedback is indispensable for learning. Vague statements centered on personal attributes (e.g. “You could try harder.”) are not useful. Rather, teachers and parents who use a positive approach and tone accompanied by direct feedback on academic or social-emotional skills have much better success. Frequent praise helps students persist when they are struggling (e.g. “Because you kept trying new ways to solve that problem, you found the answer.”). However, praise that suggests personal attributes account for successes (e.g. “I knew you were smart”) does not help. As with all learning, practice, persistence and timely correction are critical. When the expectations in the classroom are known and supported by parents in the home, children are most successful. 

Model appropriate behavior

Children require frequent contact with adults who can model and instruct them in respectful interactions. Understanding how to identify thoughts and feelings and how to express these through verbal and non-verbal communication is what ultimately leads to emotional and behavioral self-control. Because peers and adults have different expectations, children need to be able to make observations about their surroundings and plan their interactions. Seeking clarification from others, “reading the room” and engaging interpersonal skills requires practice. Undoubtedly, some kids will make mistakes.

Parents and teachers who value risk taking, provide feedback without judgment and promote children’s self-reflection will find healthy children flourishing and children with challenges moving toward age-appropriate goals.

Parents with questions about consistent problematical behavior or the science behind these recommendations should ask their school psychologist — every school has access to one.