Reflections of a School Administrator and Parent

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

Recently, I opened a note from the Dean of Students of my daughter’s high school that literally made my throat catch. Without warning, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. A commencement notice? Wait, what? How did we already get to the end of her high school career?

There wasn’t anything particularly unusual in the note – just the date and location of commencement, the number of tickets allotted to a family, and other pertinent details to help with planning for the big day.

I know I shouldn’t have been shocked by the note, much less moved to tears. It wasn’t presented as a hallmark card. It was simply the facts – my youngest child will be graduating from high school career. And I can’t believe it.

In my official role as a school administrator, I tell parents all the time that their children’s childhood will pass by in a blink of an eye. The phases they are experiencing now will be a distant memory (and perhaps even a funny one) as the years pass. I advise middle school parents in particular, that the child they see in sixth grade may be very different from the budding teenager they’ll see in eighth grade. Their daughters will grow and mature, and before you realize, one day you’ll look up and elementary school will be in the rearview mirror.

But that knowledge didn’t help me in the moment I opened my daughter’s commencement notice and realized her childhood had in fact passed in the blink of an eye. My daughter is the youngest of my three children, so there is a certain sense of finality in her graduation. While my husband and I have certainly lived each year of her school experiences, it still feels too soon. I wonder, is she prepared? Did she get everything she needed along the way? Did her education give her all that she needs to move forward as a young adult?

Of course, it’s too late to pick apart her education now – she’s at the end of her high school career. And I actually do have confidence that she is well prepared for her next journey. But the swiftness of our arrival at this moment reminds me that making the most of our time with our children and involving ourselves in their education are imperative to their future success.

But what does that mean for the middle school parent whose child is still years away from graduation? For them I have a few thoughts as both a school administrator and as a parent:

  • Take the time to get to know your child’s teachers. In elementary school, it seems like such a simple task with only one or two classroom teachers. But it’s equally important to get to know your child’s school environment in middle and high school. Your involvement will naturally be different as your child ages, but you should understand the school climate, culture, and most importantly, the adults that will be spending time with your child every day.
  • Ask your child questions – a lot of them! Help your child engage in her learning process by asking her to reflect on her day. When did she feel most proud of herself? What would she have done differently? What excites her about her day? What makes her nervous or afraid? Asking questions will give you a snapshot of your child’s mindset and attitude towards school – and her place in it.
  • Partner with your child’s school. As a parent and a school administrator, I’ve sat on both sides of the table. I’ve been an upset parent, wanting reconciliation on behalf of my children for some issue at school, and I’ve been the administrator helping families to navigate through bumps in the road of their child’s education. Both roles are difficult in the moment, but it helps to keep the child and her needs at the center of the discussion. Students are best served when the adults around them are on the same page and are focused on helping them to grow and learn, despite any present difficulties. In a challenging school situation, be an advocate for your child so she feels supported by her family, but also look to find common ground with the school to find the best solution.
  • And finally, show up! Be there for parent/teacher conferences, school performances, classroom presentations – whenever possible. Working schedules may make that difficult, but over the course of her school career, your child will remember the moments when you showed up for her