College success. It matters to all of us. Colleges want students to succeed so they will stay in school and graduate. High schools want students to succeed in college as a demonstration of their high school preparation. And parents, well, of course we want to see our children succeed and graduate.
But although we all want the same thing for students, we don’t necessarily know how to all work together to make it happen. Too often, we pull in separate directions, send mixed messages, or even directly oppose each other. How then, can parents work together with their child’s high school to lay the foundation for college success?
Understand what students need
In 2014, Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit educational reform organization released compelling results of a national study of over 1,300 high school graduates. We’ve shared some of the results of that study, Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? in earlier posts.
Graduates, reflecting on their high school experiences after graduation wish they had known more during high school. So how can we help students understand the value of certain experiences while they are in high school rather than only after high school? One approach to doing this is for parents and high schools to work more closely together to partner for their students’ success.
Recent research also indicates that college students need not only the hard academic skills to succeed in college, but also the softer life skills that can help students persist to graduation. Qualities and skills such as grit and persistence, time management, communication skills and collaboration are equally important to student success. 50% of the graduates in the Achieve study felt they had gaps in their preparation for life after high school. Both schools and parents bear some responsibility for those gaps.
Understand what partnership looks like
Parents cannot, and should not, tell high schools how to design curriculum and teach students. And schools cannot, and should not, tell parents how to parent. However, it is possible for both schools and parents to support each other — and perhaps even push each other a bit — and to unite in common messages to students.
- Only 25% of the graduates in the Achieve study felt that their high school had set high academic expectations for them. Parents should let school administrators know that they expect the school to hold expectations high, and then parents need to accept that sometimes that may mean that students who struggle or who do not do what is expected will receive lower grades. Schools need to be clear that they will not lower expectations because parents feel students should receive higher grades for college admission.
- 60% of students in the study said they would have worked harder in high school if they had known what would be expected of them in college 72% said they would have taken higher level classes if they had known expectations, and 87% said they would have worked harder if the school had demanded more of them. High schools need to work to communicate college expectations to students. Parents need to work to reinforce this as well by encouraging students to visit colleges and sit in on classes. Parents and high schools can work together to learn more about what colleges expect and what gaps previous graduates have felt. Communication about expectations between students, high school, parents, and colleges is vital.
- Parent organization (PTO or PTA) meetings are important — and should include school representatives in discussion. College preparation meetings with students are important — and should include parents. Parents can work to create more opportunities to have teachers/administrators, parents, and students in the same room talking about college and college preparation — beyond simply admission and finances.
- High school teachers can work to create longer-term assignments and course syllabi with requirements and expectations and then parents can work at home to help students plan their management of time and steps to complete longer projects. At home follow-through can reinforce in-school messages.
- 90% of students surveyed by Achieve, Inc. said they wished they had had more opportunities for real world learning. Schools can provide some of this, but they are limited. Parents may have opportunities to provide real world experiences, but they need to understand the curriculum that they need to reinforce with real world opportunities. Communication about goals, objectives, and outcomes will clarify opportunities for both schools and parents.
- Finally, both schools and parents can work together to teach students how to fail. While we all want our students to succeed, they will not succeed at everything. Students must be encouraged to take some reasonable risks in order to grow. But students need to be prepared for failure. Much of the stress that students now experience in college may be due to the fact that they have not had previous opportunities to fail. Parents and schools need to be delivering a consistent message to students that some failure is reasonable and expected and part of the learning experience. Students need to be given opportunities — both at home and at school — to stretch, and fail, and move on. Whether it is termed persistence, grit, or resilience, this is a quality that can, and must, be taught.
Partnerships between parents, students, and schools can take many forms. It is crucial that all parties involved constantly reinforce shared messages and goals. We can all work to help our students succeed — and even excel — in college and beyond.