Parent Violence at Schools

Parent Violence at Schools

The Violent Parent

One in three principals have been
assaulted. This is being reported today on the ABC.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-27/school-principals-attacked-by-students,-parents-says-acu-report/10850336

This is an unacceptable but sadly a growing
trend over recent years. The reasons for this are many and varied and it would
take a huge volume of research to fully reveal the causes of this rise. Here is
what I think needs to be looked at closely:

  • “My child doesn’t lie” is a
    belief that many parents have. The reality is that we all either lie or at
    least tell things in a way that puts us in a favourable light. Children are very good at
    this. In my experience, most issues parents have with a school are because
    their child has either lied, omitted information or exaggerated things. Parents
    need to understand that all children do this to some extent and start by trying
    to understand what actually occurred instead of taking their own child’s story
    as being 100% accurate.
     
  • There is a growing trend with
    the current generation of parents to be hyper-defensive of their child. Being a
    good parent has come under the spotlight in the past decade and parents are now
    feeling social pressure to be a good parent. A very visible way of doing this
    is to react when a perceived injustice has occurred.

  • Parents are sometimes poorly
    educated themselves or have a negative attitude towards schools or teachers
    from their own schooldays, and feel out of their depth when addressing an issue
    at school. One way to cover this feeling of inadequacy is to be verbally and
    physically aggressive.

  • Social media has a lot to
    answer for. In group chats and forums, people freely vilify others with scant
    evidence. The actions they freely promote are violent and aggressive. If a
    parent has posted an issue with a school, social media will often promote an
    unrealistically extreme response.

  • Reality television has a lot to
    answer for. The producers know that making a reality television show popular
    means they must go beyond the bounds of what are social norms and introduce
    more extreme behaviours. This is gets people watching. 
    Being confrontational, argumentative and openly hostile are promoted in
    these shows and the shows’ advertising.

    Research has demonstrated how powerful television dramas and reality shows are
    in providing a model of what acceptable behaviour
    is. The model reality television thrusts in front of today’s families is one
    that is saying you need to openly confront and be hostile.

  • Schools are also part of the
    problem. School structures and procedures are often poorly thought out and
    advertised so parents don’t have a clear and satisfactory process to follow. If
    a parent has a grievance that they consider to be urgent and important, there
    needs to be a clearly defined way that this can be addressed. The parent should
    never be in a position of feeling that they need to walk in to the school and
    simply confront a teacher or principal.

    Some schools will have procedures for this, but they often still lack some
    simple steps in the process which are vital to calming a situation down:

    • Whenever there is a potentially
      explosive issue, the school needs to insist that the parent have an advocate
      there with them. This provides a third calming voice to interpret and reason.
      If the parent has no advocate, the school should have some volunteers to call
      on who can help. Before the meeting, the advocate should sit with the parent to
      listen to their side of the story.

    • Parents need to feel that their
      issue is being addressed. I have not come across many schools that actively
      follow up parents after an issue has been raised to see that things have been
      resolved. This preemptive action goes a long way to making sure an issue does
      not escalate.

  • Governments and education
    departments also must rethink things. Parents find it difficult to resolve
    issues where a principal seems to be making a poor decision. The steps for this
    are obscure and difficult for parents to navigate. Given that they have tried
    to address an issue already and feel they have received no satisfactory
    response, it is not surprising that parents feel that assault is the only
    option open to them.

Do you have thoughts on this? Please add
your comments, but do not name any individuals or schools.

Choosing a Book to Read to My Child

Choosing the right books to read to your child is not a simple matter. If you choose the wrong books, your child can start to think of the reading sessions as a boring activity, but choosing the right books can help your child love reading and engross them in an activity that will last the rest of their lives.

Here are some hints that will help you along the way:

  • Because you are reading to your child, it is okay to choose a book with a slightly higher vocabulary than they would choose themselves. This is a great way of introducing new vocabulary to them.

  • Choose from your child’s interests. This can be a great place to start and will give you a boost if you are trying to establish a reading routine. As time goes by, though, it is worth introducing some different genres as this will expand vocabulary and allow the exploration of new things.
  • Choose something that is exciting very quickly. This is a terrific way to get a child hooked in a book and can be very good for establishing a reading routine.

  • If your child has poor concentration levels, it is worth starting with short stories or novels that have a mini adventure in each chapter.

  • Explore an author. If your child has already read a book from an author and enjoyed it, introduce another book by the same author. This opens up the chance to compare and contrast the two works.

  • Don’t select the book they are using for a reader at school. Reading to your child is a time to enjoy a book together. When you are reading a school reader, you are likely turning it into work.
  • Choose high quality literature. There are many books written for children and most of them are of a poor standard. They are based on simple formulas and fail to do any more than relate a simple adventure.
    There are many places to see lists of high quality children’s books. Ask at your local library or check https://www.cbca.org.au/short-list-2018 for the short list of top (Australian) books each year.
  • If you had favourite books or authors yourself as a child, use these. There’s a certain magic in sharing your own childhood with your child. This can also be a good choice if you are reading to more than one age group together, because it gives you the excuse of choosing the book.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to persist with reading a book you really don’t like. Your enjoyment or lack of it will come through in your reading aloud.
  • Join your local library and join your child up as well. This can give a wide selection and freedom of choice without having to worry about cost. It empowers the child in their choice as well.
  • Be adventurous and check out some poetry for children. Again, start with your local library. There are many poems suitable for children. They are often short and memorable (good for reciting) and can introduce humour or feelings in a way that children can understand, especially if you tease it out a bit with questions. Reading poetry aloud has a different pattern from reading stories aloud, so it gives children a bit of variety in the material choice. If your time for reading aloud is restricted, choosing a poem or two makes a complete activity in a short time.

Musing on ASD

I have had a couple of conversations this week with parents seeking help with learning for a child with autism, so I thought it would be worth exploring it a little more.

Autism is a condition where the individual has some combination of difficulty with social interactions, has some degree of obsessive interest and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities. People diagnosed with autism sit somewhere on a spectrum according to the level of difficulty experienced.  

Most often schools are a really difficult place for children with autism. In school a child is pushed by the system to be compliant with group structures and rules and this often runs counter to the drives and sensitivities of the child. Other children can find it difficult to be sensitive towards a child with autism and so the child can end up being ignored or bullied.

While some schools have a deep understanding and sensitivity of the needs of an autistic child and actively run programs across the school to support them, most schools merely try to cope. This makes sending an autistic child to school heartbreaking for the parents and stressful for the child.

If you have a school child who has been diagnosed with autism, the good news is they can learn and they can integrate with other children. Like any learning difference, it can be a barrier to some learning, but you can help your child develop techniques to overcome barriers. It requires extra work and patience by you and by the school but it can be done.

  • Start by visiting https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/schools.  They can provide help for you and the school.
  • Have regular school meetings. Make a list of items ahead of the meetings and make sure the school knows your list before the meeting starts (that will give them time to prepare with ideas and solutions).
  • There are Facebook groups for parents who have autistic children. Join them and share ideas.
  • What you do at home is super important for helping your child. They will need extra help and coaching in coping and the one on one time you give them at home will be invaluable. (see an example here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEEBcaplgNo).

If your child goes to school with a child who has autism, take the time to talk to your child about it. It is important to help your child to understand that the child with autism might just have some difficulty with socialisation and needs the patience and support of your child. I remember talking to a tearful mother some years ago whose child had autism. She had tears of joy because her socially awkward child had been invited to a birthday party. The invitation meant an awful lot to the child as it was the first one. Her child was thirteen years old.

One simply trick that makes fractions easy.

Why does my child have so much trouble with fractions?

Of all the areas of maths that cause problems for the young learner, fractions causes the most and I have often seen students in middle and upper secondary school still struggling to understand them. Fixing one simple misunderstanding can solve this.

When children start to learn about numbers, they do so by counting and recognizing quantities (e.g. ‘How many apples are there?’, ‘Can you count to 10?’, etc.).  Kindergartens and schools reinforce counting quantities and digits are formally introduced.. Over and over our children are told numbers tell us how many things there are. This is all important and good…. Until we start with fractions.

Fractions are a way of describing things that are less than one. The tricky part is the bottom bit of a fraction (the denominator). The denominator stops being a normal number and tells us a size instead[i]. For example the ‘4’ in ¼ tells us that the whole object (e.g. cake) should be divided into 4 equal parts (the size is 4).

When we learn, we tend to use what we know already to make sense of new things. For young children, who have been told over and over that a number is a quantity they can count, the denominator is seen in the light of what they have learnt already. This prior knowledge tells them that the denominator is a quantity because it is a number.  This leads them to all sorts of odd results. For example, ½ + ½ = 2/4 (because you can add quantities together).

If your child is struggling with fractions, sit down with them and explain how sizes work in fractions (using clothing sizes as a comparison can help). Once they understand that the denominator just describes the size, the rest becomes easy.


[i] For the purists, we know that the denominator uses quantities to describe the size and does not change from a normal number in this sense, however, for clarity in young learners it is far more important for them to understand the concept of a denominator as describing a size.

NAPLAN: Parents are giving it a thumbs up but should they?

NAPLAN: Parents are giving it a thumbs up but should they?


https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/parents-back-naplan-as-guide-to-childrens-progress-says-research/news-story/c9bbcedb6d03e5f8b01e3e852f73cbc5

Parents backing NAPLAN as a guide to children’s progress is a very understandable thing. As parents, we are sometimes unsure of whether the school is giving us the honest information about our children. Having an organisation external to the school doing a check gives us an independent measure of both our child and the success of our school. It seems simple, but the concept of NAPLAN has a raft of unintended consequences that should be considered.

NAPLAN is Inaccurate

The NAPLAN test uses a small number of questions to assess students on a particular week each year. The nature of this means that individual students’ results can be inaccurate. The child may have had a distracting event in their life that week, or they might be a little unwell, or they had a late basketball game the night before, etc. It might also be that one class just happened to focus on one of the areas in the test the week before while another class was going to do it next week and this also skews the results.(See here for more: https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?tag=misleading-naplan-reports.)

As the number of students goes up, the overall accuracy of the results improves as these anomalies get absorbed in the larger numbers. NAPLAN gives accurate information for a state or the country as a whole but is less accurate at a school or individual level.

NAPLAN Causes School Panic

Because school results are readily available to parents, schools have become very concerned about NAPLAN results. Apart from the inaccuracies outlined above, it is right that schools should be concerned, but what schools actually do about this is sometimes alarming.

If a school is worried about poor NAPLAN results, you would think it would lead to them reviewing their teaching and learning practices and making long term plans to improve things. The NAPLAN tests could then be used as a benchmark for the success of those changes. This would be a fantastic result and does happen in some cases. (See here for more: https://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://scholar.google.com.au/&httpsredir=1&article=3074&context=ecuworkspost2013.)

For many other schools, though, this worry only makes things worse. The school, worried about losing students, tries to game the system. They do this by spending weeks before the NAPLAN tests giving their students practice on sitting the tests. This gaming of the test leads the school to get inaccurate results and the NAPLAN test grows to become a stressful event for the student. (Read more here https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1017709.pdf.)

Students see themselves as failures
Our schooling system uses a method of teaching where all students are expected to be doing the same work based on their grade level. There are many reasons for this, with the main one being economics – it is just too expensive to provide appropriate learning to every student individually. The NAPLAN testing measures students’ progress in this system. To be fair, it does measure across several levels, but this does not help struggling students much. Struggling students exist in this system that constantly tells them that they are not smart because they are not at the level of other students in the class. For such students, NAPLAN testing gives them an external opinion that confirms their self-belief that they are just dumb

My child can’t understand their homework… Neither can I!!

So here you are, your child is sitting staring at their maths homework and not understanding how to solve a problem. You can see the frustration building and you want to help. The problem is you can’t solve the problem either!

While it is understandable that a parent can feel inadequate in such a situation, it is my belief that this is one of the greatest opportunities for a parent to assist their child to become a good learner. Here are some reasons why:

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The Dreaded Homework Sheet

This week’s topic is a bugbear for many parents where nights are spent helping a tearful child cope with homework in the form of a sheet of activities that need to be completed by the end of the week. The activities usually include some Mathematics and English questions as well as small puzzles. Your child usually doesn’t want to do the sheets and it becomes a point of contention in the household. If your child happens to be coping well at school, the homework sheet may be completed quickly on a Monday night and then there is no ongoing homework for the remainder of the week.

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Homework: Is it good or bad?

In all the schools I worked at, the schools had a “Homework Policy” which stipulated how much homework was required each week at each year level. It was a weekly time-consuming ritual of setting, collecting, marking and following up the students who failed (often regularly) to complete homework assignments. The effort put in to the homework routines always seemed to be a lot of work for a very small return to me.

Like everything in education, the validity of homework comes up regularly in the media. In an article this week published by the ABC (read it here) some schools in Western Australia are moving away from having their children do homework. Are such schools doing the right thing? Homework is a contentious issue. In the following few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles related to homework where we will examine the benefits and problems with homework in our schools.

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Conversations with Schools

Conversations with Schools

Having a meeting with a school about an issue about your child is a hard thing to get right. We want to support our child, but sometimes arriving at school to have a conversation about a perceived issue makes matters worse.

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