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Navigating the Back-to-School Season: Challenges and Opportunities

As we stand on the cusp of another school year, the question emerges: When does “Back to School Season” actually start?

Of course, it depends who you ask. Some schools have been in session for weeks, others enjoy Labor Day as their official end to summer vacation. In my family, it starts today as my wife, a veteran educator, heads back to school for professional development today.

As we experience that shift in our household, it’s led me to wonder what I should write about as the new school year kicks off. As I reflect, I realized I still feel more trepidation than I did in the pre-COVID school years (and I don’t think I’m alone).

It’s clear that the aftermath of COVID-19 still looms large as our schools continue to be short-staffed. New Learning Policy Institute data revealed that nearly half (47%) of schools had teaching vacancies that were “very difficult to fill” or that could not be filled.

Adding to these concerns is the persistent adolescent mental health crisis. Schools are hurrying to find innovative strategies to holistically address the needs of the students. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signal marginal improvements in teenage mental well-being, it still stands as a "substantial public health problem."

But I promise, this post isn’t all doom and gloom. I actually think there is a silver lining to having all of this attention on public education. People are recognizing that teaching is hard. The exciting part is, there are things you can do to make it a little easier.

Cultivate strong relationships. Whatever lays ahead this school year, it’s easier to face a challenge when you’re part of a strong team. Take the time to get to know the teachers, students, families and leaders in your community and learn how you can support them.

Looking for a way to start the year on the right foot? Send a positive message to someone. This video I recorded for CASEL talks about the importance of a positive note home from teachers, but parents, you can do the same. If your child had a great day at school and loves their new teacher, take the time to tell them!

Advocate for Your Public Schools. Public schools are under attack. You’ve likely heard that Florida banned AP African American Studies and earlier this month Arkansas followed suit. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Teachers are being censored and they need your support. It’s time to take action. Not sure where to get started?

  • Research the issues happening in your district.

  • Collaborate with your local teachers’ union.

  • Attend a school board meeting.

Appreciate Teachers Year Round. Every year in May, we talk about how teacher appreciation shouldn’t be limited to a specific week or month. So let’s walk the walk now, in September, when teachers need us most.

  • Ask your child’s teacher (or the teachers in your life) how you can take something off of their plates. Be prepared to cut laminate, make copies and organize books!

  • Practice everyday life skills with your child. Anything your child can do for themselves takes something off of their teacher’s plate, so practice skills like tying shoes, opening lunch containers, zipping up coats, etc.

  • Support your child’s academic learning at home. Read with your child regularly. Practice handwriting and motor skills. Find math games that you can play as a family. As the teacher gets to know your child, ask what kinds of academic skills they’d most like you to reinforce.

Together we need to prioritize children’s education and treat it as the communal effort that it is. Keep this in mind as you connect with teachers throughout the fall and be sure to wish them good luck as they embark on the new school year!

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