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Are You Helping or Hindering Your Son’s Long-Term Academic Progress?

I’ve been in the teaching game for 20 years and it doesn’t’ seem to get any easier – for teachers or for parents. The social landscape is ever evolving: texting, sexting, Facebook, Instagram, iPhone, Apple Watches, cars that drive by themselves, gaming addictions! Some students these days present as both older than their years, and younger. Some are simultaneously more ‘worldly’ but ironically, more insulated.

Over the last twenty years, the pace of change has exploded. In education, this has meant coming to terms with vast new technologies, which have transformed mindsets and behaviours. We would be naïve to think though, that this is the only change. At the same time as the physical resources of classrooms have shifted, the paradigm of education has also shifted. Knowing things for the sake of knowing them, is no longer that which should be most aspired to. The growing emphasis on higher order thinking, problem solving, creativity and critical thinking is not going anywhere – and nor should it. The nature of student’s has changed. Teachers now compete for their attention, against myriad ‘distractors’.

Just as education has changed, so has society. Research would suggest that parents now carry with them a heightened sense of dread about the prospects that their children might be harmed. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that today’s children are any more prone to danger than the children of previous generations. The technological revolution and the availability of 24-hour news, may in part, help us understand why some parents can’t let their children ‘play in the streets’, as my grandmother’s generation did.

What has this all got to do with learning?

The increased anxiety of some parents impacts learning outcomes of students adversely. At this point, it is important to note that parent involvement in their children’s education is desirable and strongly encouraged at ATC. However, there is a line at which involvement becomes unhealthy and counterproductive. Recent studies have found rising trends of ‘helicopter’ or ‘lawn-mower’ parenting. Importantly, what both of these parenting styles have in common, is that they almost always come from a good place – the desire not to let children fail.

Helicopter parents, for instance, ‘hover’ over their children and teachers to ensure positive outcomes. They will typically know all elements of a task and risk manage the completion of the task closely. Lawn mower parents, by contrast, remove obstacles from their children and clear pathways, such that nothing gets in the way. Unsurprisingly, children in families where these parenting styles were common, experienced heightened anxiety, depression, low resilience, low autonomy and low problem solving skills. Over time, their academic outcomes weakened.

Parenting is by no means an easy business. There are no manuals and each child is different. Context will always be an important guide. However, if hovering or lawn mowing is your default position, if you regularly need to stand over your son for him to work, or regularly need to clarify his expectations with the teacher, or regularly need to rescue him, ask yourself this question: is there a better long-term strategy?

It might not seem like it in the moment, but growth to maturity becomes impossible if someone is always solving your problems for you. Our Learning Vision at ATC calls on our teachers to help our students develop skills including problem solving, creative and critical thinking and empathy, so that they can make a productive difference in the world. This will require a gradual release of responsibility to the student’s themselves. The result of this gradual release of responsibility might be success. It might be a failure – one that is important to have experienced because it invites contemplation about what needs to be done differently.

Authentic learning isn’t about getting an A on a test in exam block in Week 9 Year 8. It’s about being able to work through challenges and resolve lessons for the future. It comes to some students innately, and others, through experience. When working with students, it’s important to play the long game!

Kath Little
Dean of Learning