Heading Back to School

It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating high school graduations, ramping up for fun in the sun, and celebrating not having to make an early morning run to the bank or Safeway at the crack of dawn for the weekly lunch money! But before too long, it will be time to head back to school.

back to schoolWhether you are sending your first grader off to his first big adventure, sending out a senior with dreams of diplomas dancing in her head, or making the journey yourself, the first day of school is a big deal. Heading back to school brings changes – new experiences and friends, new challenges and successes. How you achieve success is up to you – a little planning can make all the difference. Are you ready?

So as you prepare for the 2009/2010 school year, here are 7 tips to help you through whether you are a parent coaching a first grader, a seasoned veteran of the homework wars, or a returning life long learner:

1. Set a goal

Ask yourself or your student – “What do you want to get out of school this year?” This gives you a ruler you can use to measure your success. A friend of mine likes to say that “What gets measured gets done.” Good grades of course are a common goal, but that is not all you might shoot for. Get creative with your goals – something like – “learn something new every day” – keep it in a journal so you can look back at it at the end of the year. Another goal might be to get involved in a club, a sport, or a study group so that you add a little spice to your regular learning diet. .

2. Create a system

The next step in making the most of your back to school adventure is to create a system to help you achieve your goals. It would be nice if all we had to do was dream it and it was so, but usually it takes a little more than that. Even Itzhak Perlman, one of the greatest violinists of our time still has to practice – carefully – everyday. Being great takes more than just luck or talent, it takes planning and hard work. Ask yourself…

3. “Who do I want to be at the end of this journey and who can help me get there?

Will you be a scholar – embracing knowledge for the love of it – or perhaps, you wish to be a teacher or tutor, sharing your knowledge with other students.- or maybe your goal is just to get through – gaining enough knowledge to meet the requirements for moving on to the next level while you focus your energies in other areas. It could be all of the above, or none of the above, the choice is up to you. The trick is – make it part of your goal and your plan to choose.

4. “What tools can I use to achieve my goals?”

There are many tools you can use to help you achieve your learning goals. Some are simple – a notebook, a pencil, a compass, or perhaps an eraser. (Nobody’s perfect.) Perhaps your phone can be a tool. Use a smart phone like the Motorola Q® or a Blackberry or PDA to manage your schedule of assignments or even use your camera phone to capture a blackboard full of notes. Phones today have everything from the cameras to calendars, and calculators to the Internet.

Fill a backpack with the tools you need, from snacks to keep up your energy, to reference books, or a planner if you choose a lower tech solution to keep things organized. But beware the bottomless back pack. It’s the nemesis of every helpful parent and erstwhile student. Bottomless backpacks eat notes and assignments. Backpacks are useful for carrying things, but if it all goes in – to never again see the light of day – they can be more hindrance than help! Use your tools wisely along your journey.

5. “Where will I go to focus?”

Get the lay of the land. Find your learning place. When I went back to get my MBA after 20 years, I knew that my study skills and lifestyle had changed. Now I had so many distractions – work, family, dumb things I needed to do. I needed a place where I could focus without any distractions. I tried setting up a place at home, but that did not work and even if I went into the office early – the day to day distractions followed me there. Finally I found a Burger King® around the corner from my office. They opened at 5 AM and were more than happy to let me study at a corner table. I had my breakfast and did my school work until 7AM before packing up and heading to work. The staff all thought it was funny and even became part of the plan – bringing me refills as I worked through my text books and even flowers when I finally graduated! Where will your learning place be? Find a quiet corner in your home, at the library, or anyplace where you can set yourself up, stay quiet and focus on what you need to do to learn. If you are a parent working with a young student – help them set aside their special place. Let them know that it is their little corner of the world. You are just around the corner if they need you, but it is their place!

6. “How will I focus in on achieving my goals?”

How we get in focus works differently for everyone. Some of us may use music to tune out the rest of the world’s distractions, others may need perfect quiet. If you are a fan of The Secret set up a Vision Board to help keep the positive thoughts around your learning goals in focus. A vision board is a simple tool. It can be a framed collage of the positive things you want to achieve – a picture of a report card will high marks, a diploma, or the college you want to go… Perhaps on your vision board you also have a picture of what you will do after school is through – a dream job or a get away location. If your learning place is outside of your home, use the front of your notebook or binder to make a portable Vision Board you can carry with you. Look at your Vision Board every day – see yourself achieving your goals, then buckle down and do what you need to do to get there.

7. “Whose job is my success?”

The answer is you. Each student must accept responsibility for achieving their goals. It is not the teacher’s job or a parent’s role force study or get necessary assignments in on time. YOU must make the commitment to your learning and to your goals. If you are coaching your children through the learning process, help them understand why what they are doing is important for them – not for you. “Do it because I said so” is not a learning motivator. Help them understand how what they are learning will help them get what THEY want. The job of a parent as learning coach then gets 100 times easier! Never nag a child about homework – it turns learning into a chore and defeats the purpose. You get frustrated, they get frustrated and you head into the homework death spiral. Instead – create a No Nag Contract with your student (or yourself). Come to an agreement where if “A”, “B” and “C” get done correctly and on time – then NO Nagging! This gives your student a chance to control their destiny and makes your home life a whole lot more pleasant!

Celebrate Success

Last but not least – as you are learning and achieving you goals – take time out to celebrate your little successes along the way. What is the point if you are not having some fun as part of the process? Reward yourself or your student with a movie, a walk in the mountains, or even a hot fudge sundae (my personal favorite!) Interim goals and the small successes that you celebrate generate the energy you need to succeed in making your long term learning goals a reality. So take a minute – chill out – look at your vision board – or just imagine what it will be like next May – when summer vacation rolls around again.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

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3 Responses to Heading Back to School

  1. Heading Back to School…

    It’s hard to believe that school season is just around the corner. Whether you are a parent getting the kids ready to go back or an adult getting ready to polish up those business skills – here……

  2. Joe Williams says:

    Wonderful and timely post, Joan. The summer is racing by, and soon we will be sending our eldest daughter to 2nd grade and our youngest daughter to kindergarten. The next few weeks will be a great time to apply the steps 🙂

    • I am glad these little tips are helpful Joe. This isn’t ‘rocket science’ but as the Mom of a graduate and a high school senior, hopefully I have learned a few tricks along the journey.

      (p.s. For those of you visiting who don’t know – Joe Williams knows alot about real rocket science. He is part of a great team at NASA. You can follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com.rikerjoe.)

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