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With the right preparation, all students can be set up for success in high school and beyond. Parents have a big impact on their teen’s success in high school, and the foundation for success can be laid while the student is still in middle school by using these five tips.

Develop School-focused Communication with Their Students

Start conversations with your student about their work at school. These conversations are best if they happen casually over dinner or in the car. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no, such as, “What are you planning to write about for the Red Badge of Courage essay?” Ideally, your student will respond that their teacher wants them to identify a theme in the story at which point you could ask what she meant by a theme. If all goes well, your student will be able to tell you that a theme is the underlying meaning of a story. You don’t really have to know what a theme is–just have them explain it to you. The purpose of the question is to alert your student that you know they will be asked to write about something and that you are an ally and resource for helping them get this done. Be sure to compliment them when they respond appropriately and express confidence in their ability to accomplish the assignment. This is true for math, science, history and language assignments. Don’t feel you have to know the material yourself; what you have a mature ability to find out your student needs and help them find answers. Do the work for your student, but instead create the conditions that will allow them to accomplish the work themselves.

Understand and Utilize Your School’s Web-based Grading System

Learn to operate the web-based grading system your school uses, and check your student’s grades regularly. As a teacher, I used to think of the work I did in the grading system as one more “thing I had to do,” instead of a way to teach students. Then I realized that this system was my best friend. Here’s why: when I post grades regularly into the system, it quickly becomes apparent if a student is missing assignments or their work is falling off in quality. This allows me to intervene so that the student can get their work back on track before the grading period ends. Students appreciate adults keeping track of their progress and so parents checking their grades is a small step of accountability that can go a long way in helping students maintain good grades throughout their high school career. Some students go so far as to set the grading system to deliver alerts to their phones whenever a grade is posted. 

Make Time and Space at Home for School-related Tasks

Make time and space for school-related tasks at home, and include sports or other extracurricular activities when planning in your family’s study schedule. Very few students are able to prioritize their schoolwork correctly during middle school and the first two years of high school. In terms of development, their brains are unfinished until their mid-twenties. One of the final abilities to develop is called “executive functioning,” which is the ability to delay gratification until an undesirable task is completed. This is why children don’t easily quit their video game to start the homework, and why they might procrastinate a writing task. If you, as a parent, can structure around this very naturally-occurring situation, you can help your student organize their time and space for maximum output of homework. 

I went to a teacher friend’s house once, and instead of a table in her dining room, she had desks for each child arranged around the perimeter. There was one for each parent, too. After dinner, everyone sat at their desks and did work. My friend attended to her teacher-related tasks during this time and was available–right next to–her children if they needed help. A parent could be paying bills, reading the newspaper, reading a book or engaging in some quiet activity next to your child where you can monitor how they are using the study time. If everyone is in their own room, it is harder to do this. 

If your child plays sports or participates in other extracurricular activities, help them plan their study periods and fit homework into the schedule. Encourage your child to become a scholar-athlete where participation in sports is a reward for school well done. Many schools support this by declaring a student “ineligible” for a sport if they go below a certain grade level, but if your child plays a club sport or is active in another activity, you may be the person who enforces this. Be ready to do this and have an open understanding with your child that school is first and foremost.

Cultivate Relationships with School Staff

 Cultivate a relationship with your student’s teachers. Go to parent-teacher conferences whether or not your teen thinks you need to. I had a parent who made sure to appear at the conferences. She was concerned about her son’s attitude about being a student at St. Mary’s. He felt out of place. His mother’s concerns, properly expressed, became mine. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the student was carrying academic weaknesses from his previous school and the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Once the student realized we were going to help him and not judge him, his out-of-place feeling lessened. 

Encourage Students to Develop Self-Direction in Their Learning

Encourage self-direction. Self-directed learning is when a person takes charge of their own learning, taking responsibility for deadlines, choosing courses, taking an active role defining their learning styles and how they learn. In other words, it’s taking an active role in their learning, as an adult would take responsibility for acquiring a particular skill. Learning is not something that is “done” for them, but something that they take on for themselves. Many, if not most, students at the early high school level are not doing this yet for themselves. Gradually, they will, but it doesn’t happen all at once. Accept that this is not something that happens all at once and encourage it. Point out to your teen when they’ve done something to take responsibility for their learning and how great that is.


By incorporating these ideas--starting school-based conversations with their student, becoming a regular user of the school grading system, making time and space for school-related tasks, developing relationships with school staff, and fanning the spark of self-direction whenever they see it in their student--it is possible for a parent to deepen their relationship with their teens while supporting their still-developing abilities. This team approach can help your student to navigate the responsibilities they will take on as a student of St. Mary’s. Not every student enters high school with the same foundation for success, but with some practical support and encouragement from parents, it’s possible to become a successful student at St. Mary’s, college and life.