Education can be a charged topic! We all want to get the best education we can for our children. Everyone has an opinion about the quality of each of the local schools, as well as alternatives like charter schools, private schools and homeschooling. We discuss particular teachers and which subjects should be taught and how. Testing is hotly debated. Discussions can get pretty emotional, and I totally get it! With my five children, I have tried just about everything: public school, homeschool, private school, charter school and online school-so I’ve been there!
Every one of these options has their strengths and weaknesses. But what is a parent to do, and how do we pick what is best for our children?
I’ve given a lot of thought to this, researched, talked to others and researched some more. As I’ve done so, I’ve come to see that there are four steps parents can take to optimize their child’s education- no matter the type of education you choose.
1. Realize That YOU Are The CEO (Chief Educational Officer) of Your Child’s Education.
I often write about why parents need to learn skills that CEOs have, and this is one instance that proves my point. A CEO is in charge of a company, but he doesn’t do it all. He doesn’t do all of the accounting, all of the marketing, shipping, etc. He finds people that are the best in their field and hires THEM to do what they are best at-and they do a much better job than he ever would. But, he is still responsible. He can’t turn a department over to someone who utterly fails at their job, who loses money and customers and then shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, it’s not MY fault, THEY did a lousy job.” The buck stops here. Therefore, schools are not responsible for your child’s education–YOU are!
I love what James Ure, (who developed the CEO analogy) of the award winning Williamsburg Academy, has recommended to engaged parents:
Parent CEOs . . . view themselves as team leaders who hold ultimate responsibility for their family’s education, but view their primary function as assembling the highest quality resources and experiences for their children, wherever these resources can be found. Their kids learn from books, the Internet, online classes and clubs, outside mentors, family members, other local parents, subject-matter experts, and a variety of other sources….These parents are confident in their approach, and . . . often face a barrage of questions from other parents who are . . . interested in learning more about what Parent CEOs are doing.
How do I do this? I’m Not a teacher!
Some parents I know are intimidated by the idea of taking charge of their child’s education. They don’t want to rock the boat or go outside of the normal way of doing things. They hesitate to say anything if something is not working or not a good fit for their child. They acknowledge that teachers, principals and other administrators have gone to school to specialize in their field and many times are more expert at education than they (the parents) are.
This is true! I personally know, love and respect a lot of teachers. We need them and they do an incredible job with the limited resources we give them. But let me tell you a secret: You are the expert when it comes to your child.
You know what works, what doesn’t work and how they tick. You have known them from before their birth. You will be with these children your whole life, and see how their education or lack thereof will effect them decades later. This is your job. Good parents don’t only give their children life, but they prepare them for it. Take up the label of Chief Educational Officer and wear it proudly.
2. Have a Defined Educational Mission Statement
Write a mission statement. Businesses do this all the time—it helps them know what their goals are and gives them a measuring stick to know if they are successful. Deliberate parents, no matter what education system they choose, can also do this to make sure their children are getting the education that is best for them.
What is the purpose of an education to you? What does it look like? How will you know if it is successful? Are you focused on Ivy league preparation or a particular talent (music, science, sports, etc.)? Is your goal just to get them through thirteen years of education? Is it to teach them life skills or prepare them for a career? Only you can answer these questions, and the answers might be different for each child.
This mission statement is the foundation against which you will examine everything else and it will help you immensely as you make choices on behalf of your child. If you are interested in our family’s mission statement, you can email me here.
3. Decide Who to Hire
Perhaps the local school supports your educational mission statement beautifully. Great! You just subcontracted that out and as long as you remain involved and up to date on your children’s progress and communicate well with the teachers, you are good to go.
Maybe the local school is less than an ideal fit. Great! You just identified a way to help your child and you get to look at alternatives. Some states allow you to have partial enrollment in various schools (public, charter and/or homeschool). If your child has a real talent or need and another school or a specific teacher can help address that, perhaps you can work something out. I love this option!
If your state’s laws do not specifically allow partnerships between schools, then you are probably out of luck–school administrators rarely allow this on their own. In my community, this is not allowed. But this has forced me to look closer at the resources in the community, dig a little deeper, and in the end, I decided to hire me!
That is how we got into homeschooling. (Note: I use the term “homeschooling” very loosely compared to others.) I love to teach my kids, and it brings me tremendous joy and fulfillment. But as my children grow, sometimes they need more than I can give. That is where exceptional live online classes come in, special local mentors, and additional classes from the community. Perhaps you can work out an opportunity to shadow or apprentice with a professional. Maybe you decide to focus your efforts on developing a talent or passion and turning it into a viable career. Whatever it is, the options are endless!
4. Re-evaluate and be realistic
Caution #1: What is good for one child, is not necessarily good for every child. Also, children’s needs change and so do your circumstances. I have one child who is not motivated when he is being educated at home. His siblings love it, but he doesn’t. We fought a lot. So he is now enrolled in a local school, though it does not align with some of our goals. But when he is accountable to someone else, he applies himself more, and that IS one of our goals.
Caution #2: You may not be able to find your ideal educational solution. Maybe you live in an area with struggling schools. Maybe you can’t win the admittance lottery to get your children into other, better schools. You might work during the day, so perhaps you can’t take your children to extra lessons or homeschool them. I have often felt frustrated by living too far away from great opportunities, concerned because of the cost of extra activities, and overwhelmed by what I would LIKE to do, verses what is possible and realistic. Sometimes I doubt myself and my ability to do right by my kids.
But You can do it!
That is when I remember the story about Ben Carson’s mother. She was a single mom who was illiterate and very poor. She was concerned about her sons and the violence and poverty they faced. Then she came up with a solution that would change their lives forever: before her sons could watch tv, they had to read a book and write a book report on it.
It sounds simple, but the change it brought about was remarkable. She couldn’t even read the book reports her sons wrote, but she would randomly circle things in a red pen when she got home from work and tell them to try a little harder. They did. And because of this, her son Ben became the best pediatric brain surgeon in the world. That’s not everyone’s story. We aren’t aiming to make history, or to make our kids famous. But we DO want them to be happy, have options in their future and live up to their potential.
Remember: YOU are your child’s best resource. YOU can read to them at night. YOU can help them discover new things as you scour the internet together for things your child is interested in. YOU can help them build things. YOU are their biggest advocate with schools and teachers, YOU can hold your child accountable. YOU are their parent for a reason. They were given to you, because you are the perfect fit for them. The love you have for them is powerful. That overcomes a lack of education, money, resources, time and everything else. You’ve got this.