Educators offer back to school suggestions

This column originally was published by ECM Publications.

Educators offer back to school suggestions

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Five major suggestions emerged from 38 Minnesota educators who responded to a request about brief “back to school” advice for families. I asked them what they recommend families do to help youngsters get ready for school. These educators offered specific, practical advice. Virtually nothing these educators suggested requires spending money.

The most frequently cited ideas involved:

-Moving back into a school year sleep schedule.

-Encouraging and helping young people set goals.

-Talking positively about the value of learning and schooling.

-Developing or reconfirming a positive relationship with educators.

-Model the kind of actions, attitudes and behaviors that you want young people to develop.

Here’s what educators in this area suggested:


David Law, Anoka-Hennepin superintendent, recommends that families “Create open lines of communication early and assume positive intentions. Many bumps in the road can be avoided by working with the school and assuming the school is working on your student’s behalf.”

Peter Wieczorek, director, Northwest Passage High School wrote:

“For parents of high school students my advice would be talk to your students about the importance of attending school everyday. When students get older it is easier to let then decide if they are going to miss school, but research shows and teachers will tell you that students who miss even a few days a quarter are less likely to graduate.”

Tony Simons, executive director, PACT charter wrote:

“I would tell parents to have the ‘Back to School Talk’ a couple of weeks before school starts. I have four kids of my own who are now grown and we had this conversation with our kids.”

Simons also recommended the following:

•Schedules – younger children need to start getting back into their “school schedule” a couple of weeks before school starts. This would include bathroom schedules, breakfast options, transportation, and what time school starts.

•Go over academic and behaviors expectations and the school rules with your children. How you act and talk in the summer sometimes don’t meet the school standard. If it is a problem get it cleaned up.

•Challenge your child to make school the most positive experience it can be. A major piece of advice I give is be cooperative with all the adults at school. That means teachers, administration, para-educators, bus drivers, food service workers, supervisors, custodial staff, and OTHER STUDENTS.  There a lot of kids at school and to get something done academically we all need to cooperate.


Les Fujitake, Bloomington Public Schools superintendent explained:

“Parents can visit their children’s school website for information to help prep for the start of school.  Parents can share their excitement for the coming school year by talking about their school engagement plans with their children.    For example, parents can share their plans for being active in the school’s PTSA and/or volunteering at the school.


Mark Bonine, superintendent, Brooklyn Center Public Schools believes:

“For many students, starting a new school year is stressful. Preparation is important. Gradually over the next few weeks, re-introduce school year bed times so your children are in the school year routine by the first day of school. Parents should take their child to open house so they can find their locker, classroom/s and meet their new teacher/s. Finally, setting goals for the school year is an important skill for students to learn as they prepare for college and career.”


Joseph Gothard, Burnsville Public Schools superintendent wrote: “The summer-to-school year transition deserves careful attention. Build structures together as a family. Wake up times, school arrival times, places to do homework, hot/cold lunch and many other daily expectations should be discussed frequently. The start of the school year may also cause anxiety in our young people. Provide affirmation and belief that compels students to give their best efforts and as a family define what success means for your child(ren).”


Gina Meinertz, elementary principal and curriculum director for Caledonia Public Schools wrote: “I would suggest moving bedtimes earlier at least a week before school so students are in a routine for the school year. Also reading, writing, and practicing some math skills will help the students to transition more confidently.”


Raymond Queener, Cambridge-Isanti Public Schools superintendent recommended:

“Encourage your student to set 3-5 goals they want to accomplish this school year. After setting the goals, make sure to develop action steps to help make progress toward goals. I would suggest at least a couple goals are in areas outside of academic achievement.”


Dr. Curt Tryggestad, Eden Prairie Public Schools superintendent explained:

“There are a number of important logistical elements to preparing for the start of the year that include supply lists, immunizations, and paperwork. Getting students to the bus stop on time is essential. But most importantly, it’s about the learning. As parents, we can inspire and encourage a love of learning in our children, particularly through reading.”


Linda Madsen, Forest Lake Public Schools superintendent wrote:

“At the start of any new or familiar significant experience, it is comforting and reassuring to children when trusted adults talk with them and listen to them. Explain your perceptions of the experience and what you believe will be important and meaningful as well as what might be concerning or challenging. Have a game plan in place should those concerns and challenges arise. Also have a plan in place to celebrate successes.”

Cam Stottler, executive director, North Lakes Academy wrote:

“Along with the basic necessary school supplies, NLA encourages families to begin preparing for the start of school by making any necessary adjustments beforehand in sleep schedules – as research continually suggests how important getting enough sleep is for students, by discussing some goals both the student and family would like to accomplish this coming year, and by seeking out any assistance needed for preparing for this school year through our website or reaching out to administration. By preparing yourself both physically with sleep and diet, and mentally with goal-setting and seeking assistance (or a plan for assistance if none is currently needed), students will be ready to take on the rigorous challenges that lie ahead.”


Jael McLemore, director of communications and community relations, Fridley Public Schools wrote:

“We invite and encourage all our Fridley parents and students to attend orientation and school kick-off events in the coming few weeks before the start of the school year. These events are designed to provide parents much needed information about the coming school year, opportunity to meet the school principal and class teachers, visit their children’s classes, and learn more about (and register for) opportunities that may be available to their children.

“One of the most important things parents can do to support their children’s education is to stay involved in their children’s education. From maintaining open responsive communications with the child’s teachers, monitoring school work and academic progress, communicating concerns early to teachers, and supporting the child’s learning at home, to a willingness to be an active partner in the child’s academic journey, a parent’s involvement in a child’s education makes a huge difference for the student’s academic achievement.”


Stephen Jones, Little Falls Public Schools superintendent explained:

“Children experience success in school when parents and the school work together for their benefit. Instilling the value of learning and a positive attitude in children are key to their achievement regardless of whether they are in 1st grade or 12th grade.”

George Weber, Pierz Public Schools superintendent believes:

“We have very safe, supportive and fun school cultures in our area filled with very caring people. Parents should make some effort to get to know the teacher your child will be with and seek ways in which they can support their child’s learning outside of school. The combination of parents and teachers being united yields terrific benefits for not only success in school but also the child’s enjoyment of school.

“For parents of teenagers, that process transitions a little as it becomes important for the student themselves to develop relationships with their teachers. Tons of research supports that fact that when the junior high and high school students get to know, respect and work with their teacher, their success and enjoyment increases.

“Most learning happens because of trust. We are blessed with communities that trust our schools and we as a school organization in turn trust and respect our parents.

“This is the key to our success.”


Tim Truebenbach, Milaca superintendent, explained:

“I always try to encourage parents to try and get themselves prepared by starting to transition into a more school-like routine. Start to structure bedtimes and wake up times similar to the school year. In addition, I encourage families to start to have some goal setting conversations. The weeks leading up to the start of school offer families the opportunities to talk about what went well the previous year and what things they want to change for the new year. This conversation alone can really set the stage for students to start thinking about having a successful start to the year.”


Dennis Peterson, Minnetonka superintendent wrote:

“My advice to parents who are helping their children get ready for school this year is that they should set goals to improve their performance from last year by being better organized and getting their work done on time. Both of those goals will help the students be happier and their parents more positive about their child doing their best in school.”


Jim Johnson, Monticello superintendent suggests:

“Parents can start to have casual conversations with their kids, encouraging them to express their hopes and concerns. Then help them come up with plans that will make it easier to achieve their dreams and address their concerns. It’s also helpful to start school-year routines early, including bedtimes and time for things such as reading. Setting these expectations a week or two early will make those first days of school a little easier.”


Teresa Dupre, Rush City superintendent explained:

“My advice to families as they prepare for the upcoming school year is to find a few great books to read to young children or for older students to read independently. Nothing helps build vocabulary and knowledge better than reading books. It is also important to engage in conversations as families about the importance of being respectful to others, of being responsible for our actions and choices, and developing good organization skills and work habits. All of these attributes contribute to school success and success in life.”


Kate Maguire, Osseo Area Public Schools superintendent wrote:

“A child’s ‘relationship’ with school is strongly influenced by parents/guardians. While there are many things that parents/guardians can do to support school success throughout the year, preparation for the start of school is particularly important. Here are some ideas for parents/guardians to consider:”

-Help your child build an academic identity by showing him/her that you believe he/she will excel in school by sending constant messages of positive affirmation about a child’s academic ability.
“This might sound like, ‘You are a good student!’ ‘You are a fast learner.’ ‘I appreciate the way that you tackle hard situations; you are building perseverance and learning that you can work through even difficult problems.’ ‘You read with such expression and I enjoy listening to you.’ ‘You are very articulate and have a strong presence; I can tell that you’ll be a great public speaker!’ ‘You are a hard worker; that will sure pay off in school!’” The idea is to name a strength and say something encouraging about how it will help them as a student and in the future. The big idea here is that students need to develop a self-identity around academics just like they need to develop a self-identify around family, race, culture, or faith.”

-Help your child begin the school year well by telling him/her that you expect them to do well in school by sending positive messages about school, teachers, classmates, and the child’s capacity to succeed. 
“The big idea here is that children need to be clear about the parent/guardian’s expectations. Coming from parents/guardians, these are powerful messages.”

-Make sure your child is physically prepared for school on the first day and everyday by ensuring adequate sleep and good nutrition!
“Part of the physical preparation for school includes having school supplies and a backpack. If parents need assistance with school supplies, we can help! Contact your building principal or counselor. It’s also important to have a dedicated space and time at home to complete homework. We can help!”


Julia Espe, Princeton superintendent explained:

“My advice to families is to help us to teach their children about a growth mindset. Help us to teach students that their intelligence can be developed. If they become more persistent, give more effort, and learn new strategies, they can improve their own achievement. Reaching out by seeking input from others when they are stuck, learning a repertoire of approaches helps them to learn and improve.”


Sally Soliday, director of elementary education believes:

“It is important to convey positive, upbeat messages to your child about the upcoming school year. Enthusiastically share the excitement of seeing friends and also making new ones, meeting a new teacher and opportunities for new learning. Your encouraging words will go a long way toward setting your child up for a successful year.”


Stillwater Superintendent Denise Pontrelli wrote:

“Going back to school is a very exciting time for students and their families. It may also cause some uncertainty, especially for those who are attending school for the very first time or those transitioning to a new building. Parents can help alleviate concerns and build excitement by talking with students about their expectations and helping to build relationships with school staff. Take advantage of back-to-school events and activities as an opportunity to get to know teachers, classmates and other families. Have your child write a letter to his or her teacher sharing their strengths and interests, and even addressing their concerns for the year. Above all else, get involved! Students do best when they know their parents are interested, engaged and invested in their learning.”


Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota suggests:

“Use the final weeks of summer to ease back into school routines by setting aside a time and place for homework and enforcing a steady schedule of bedtimes and wake-up times. Once school starts, communicate with your child’s teachers and learn the best ways to contact them and so you can learn about what is happening in the classroom. Always remember you are your child’s learning role model. Show you like to read, write and know how to use technology appropriately.”

Like families, these educators are committed to students’ success. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and no money is needed to follow these five recommendations. But time, thought and effort are required. However, following these suggestions will have real, positive results.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

3 Responses to Educators offer back to school suggestions

  1. Tom King says:

    Set up your own Personal Learning Plan for the year, kids. What are your goals? Where do you need to improve? what do you need from your parents, teachers, mentors, others to reach your goals?

    Take greater responsibility for your own learning. Find ways to show us that you know. Others can help, but you are in charge of your learning. No one else can do it for you. We can help. Make yourself proud.

  2. Joan Arbisi Little says:

    Being a parent is hard work and your tips are a great resource! I will share these with my friends.

    I have one to add,
    When my kids were younger they didn’t want to respond to my questions – How was school? What did you do today? etc.

    Then I started a new strategy that got my kids talking. I would ask questions about their positive emotions.
    For example,
    What surprised you today?
    What made your teacher happy?
    What did you do to help someone?

    Those conversations made the transition easier for all of us and helped us talk about empathy.

  3. Excellent suggestions from Tom and Joan. Thanks!

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