Column: Area educators offer some back to school suggestions

By Joe Nathan
Guest Columnist

Five major suggestions emerged from 38 Minnesota educators who responded to a request about brief “back to school” advice for families. I asked them what they recommend families do to help youngsters get ready for school. These educators offered specific, practical advice. Virtually nothing these educators suggested requires spending money.
The most frequently cited ideas involved:

•Moving back into a school year sleep schedule.

•Encouraging and helping young people set goals.

•Talking positively about the value of learning and schooling.

•Developing or reconfirming a positive relationship with educators.

•Model the kind of actions, attitudes and behaviors that you want young people to develop.

Here’s what educators in this region suggested:


Dr. Curt Tryggestad, Eden Prairie Public Schools superintendent explained:

“There are a number of important logistical elements to preparing for the start of the year that include supply lists, immunizations, and paperwork. Getting students to the bus stop on time is essential. But most importantly, it’s about the learning. As parents, we can inspire and encourage a love of learning in our children, particularly through reading.”


Kate Maguire, Osseo Area Public Schools superintendent wrote:

“A child’s ‘relationship’ with school is strongly influenced by parents/guardians. While there are many things that parents/guardians can do to support school success throughout the year, preparation for the start of school is particularly important. Here are some ideas for parents/guardians to consider:”

•·Help your child build an academic identity by showing him/her that you believe he/she will excel in school by sending constant messages of positive affirmation about a child’s academic ability.

“This might sound like, ‘You are a good student!’ ‘You are a fast learner.’ ‘I appreciate the way that you tackle hard situations; you are building perseverance and learning that you can work through even difficult problems.’ ‘You read with such expression and I enjoy listening to you.’ ‘You are very articulate and have a strong presence; I can tell that you’ll be a great public speaker!’ ‘You are a hard worker; that will sure pay off in school!’” The idea is to name a strength and say something encouraging about how it will help them as a student and in the future. The big idea here is that students need to develop a self-identity around academics just like they need to develop a self-identify around family, race, culture, or faith.”

•Help your child begin the school year well by telling him/her that you expect them to do well in school by sending positive messages about school, teachers, classmates, and the child’s capacity to succeed.

“The big idea here is that children need to be clear about the parent/guardian’s expectations. Coming from parents/guardians, these are powerful messages.”

• Make sure your child is physically prepared for school on the first day and everyday by ensuring adequate sleep and good nutrition!

“Part of the physical preparation for school includes having school supplies and a backpack. If parents need assistance with school supplies, we can help! Contact your building principal or counselor. It’s also important to have a dedicated space and time at home to complete homework. We can help!”


Kevin Borg, Westonka superintendent believes: “August is a great time for parents to help their children set goals for the school year and review strategies on how to meet them.”


Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota suggests:

“Use the final weeks of summer to ease back into school routines by setting aside a time and place for homework and enforcing a steady schedule of bedtimes and wake-up times. Once school starts, communicate with your child’s teachers and learn the best ways to contact them and so you can learn about what is happening in the classroom. Always remember you are your child’s learning role model. Show you like to read, write and know how to use technology appropriately.”

Like families, these educators are committed to students’ success. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and no money is needed to follow these five recommendations. But time, thought and effort are required. However, following these suggestions will have real, positive results.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]