Discover the Secrets of How a Top Educator Supports Her Kids Education

MATHS INSIDERS blog (10)

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.  ~John Wilmot

As busy parents, we’re all looking for ways to succeed in this difficult job.

One of the reasons I set up Maths Insider was to share the knowledge of some of the inspirational educators that I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting with over the years.

This week I bring you an interview with an educator who by my guess, holds one of the top 50 positions in UK education but as a result of this position she wants to preserve her privacy.

She shares some great advice

  • how she mixes being a laid back parent of a teen while still being strict
  • her approach to dealing with problems at her children’s schools
  • practical ways to support maths learning

and much more!

There’s nearly 2000 words of insightful advice below, which will benefit all parents who are serious about their roles as their children’s educators. Read on to discover tips from this top educator.

LuMaxArt Graduation Concept
Creative Commons License photo credit: lumaxart
You have 2 sons, tell us how your job has helped/hindered the way you view their schooling?

It has made me overly critical sometimes, it makes you investigate every aspect because you get the privilege of seeing so much good and varied practice, you go around saying in your children’s schools “this could be done this way” but I do try to not let the school know my occupation. I am there as a parent and that’s how I want them to see me. I do think sometimes it’s hard for  my children because they have no hiding place with their stories, I just look at them and say ‘Really? Really? Your teacher REALLY said at Level 8 you do NOT need to evaluate?’

Given your educational expertise, are you a pushy parent?

I don’t think I’m a pushy parent or overly concerned, in fact a parent actually said to me ‘ I wish I could be as laid back as you’. The trick is to know when to push – with my older child I was relaxed about his studies until year 10 (Grade 9). When he got his first bad note, I did say ‘Well I  think you would be very strange if you didn’t get a single bad note.’ Now at age 15, I’m constantly threatening him with all sorts, the worst one is always ‘I’m going to call your teachers…’

You usually see schools when they are on their best behaviour so tell us the worst and best things you have seen during your inspections.

Confidential I’m afraid…but the best is always a really really good lesson which makes me think I want to go back to teaching now. Regardless of what subject it is, a well planned, focused lesson delivered by someone who obviously knows and enjoys their subject is very motivating. Also when you know that the senior leaders have made sure everyone in the school understand why they are there… to get the best out of the children..when you see that and you try to understand how they have made it happen..that is wonderful!

You’re a Maths teacher by background, Tell us some great things you’ve seen in maths classrooms that parents can do at home as well.

Make maths fun, make it enjoyable, think of creative ways to teach it even for older teenagers. For example:
  • Act out how graphs are transformed by being the graph. Use post-it notes and mini-white boards and internet…
  • Challenging your children to beat your score (don’t always make it easier just because they’re children..their aim should be to beat your score).
  • Make maths relevant…do it subtly..in the kitchen..in the shops and not just for mental calculations..in a shoe shop what average should be used…in a bank what is compound and simple interest..how does this affect third world countries…what are alternative solutions …
  • What is the maths of the very expensive trainer they want to buy/what % of the cost price goes to the workers.

What should parents do if not happy with their child’s school.

As a parent I always found this hard to do so fully appreciate how difficult it is but you must challenge it. I would suggest first doing it verbally but always gently . Be careful about the language you use and make sure you understand and portray that this is a problem that you want to resolve together ‘I am a little concerned about…’ be factual and precise.. ‘On Wednesday my son did/or the teacher said..this was worrying because…’

In English they use PEE, Point, Evidence, Explain – try this strategy and rehearse what you want to say with a friend or a family member. Also it is always helpful if you go with a potential solution…of course it depends on the circumstance but try not to make the solution drastic.

If that doesn’t resolve the situation then do it in writing…same rules as above apply..be courteous and gentle (not soft but gentle) and factual. Remember PEE and solution…

If that doesn’t work, follow the school’s complaints procedure, this can be writing to the governors, writing to the local authority/education board, your school should have a complaints policy. In England you can also complain to Ofsted if the school’s complaint procedure has not produced the desired effect. Your complaint has to be about the school in general not just specific to your child. So something that is affecting the safety or quality of education of children in the school not the fact that you are upset about one specific incident that happened to your child unless of course its implications are wide ranging.

How important are school results? What else should parents look out for when choosing a school?

Yes results are important but keep this in perspective…a highly selective school should get very high results but is this comparable to a school where children go in with very weak skills and because of the excellent teaching, extensive curriculum opportunities, caring staff and driven leaders, the school gets the same high results?
Ask:
    • Is this a school your child will be happy in?
  • Will the teaching methods suit your child or will he get good results but be really bored?
  • How does the school feel; what was your initial reaction to the place, how did staff treat you?
  • Were the children in the school happy, did they play contently, safely, caringly and behave well?
  • Are the children polite, are they confident, independent, and courteous to each other and to you?
  • Are teachers just marking books or clearly noting how pupils can improve their work? What support will they offer children who are struggling in lessons or who are finding work easy?
  • Ask the school how they deal with bullying, probe if they say there is none – how do they know; what are they looking out for?
  • What extra curricular activities are there?
  • Where do children go when they leave school?


Your oldest son is 15, what study strategies can you share for parents of teenagers?

The best one is threatening to take away the computer/phone but you must carry it through at least once!
From an early stage set their goals but make this appropriate to their aptitude, make this realistic and make sure it is more than just academic…the children who will be the most successful are the ones who are well rounded.
All of us are very busy parents so a routine needs to be established. I don’t do very much monitoring, but randomly I will:
  • read an assignment,
  • ask to see the homework that I’m supposed to sign in the homework diary,
  • ask him to explain what they are learning in maths.
This gives you an overview of the quality of work they are doing. Monitor how long they are doing their homework, spending too long and too short a time should be of equal concern. If you feel that a particular piece of work is of poor quality don’t hesitate to make them do it again and threaten to call their teacher (again you have to carry this threat out at least once).

Nothing is more influential in a teenager’s life than his teacher and his parent getting together – the added benefit is the teacher will know there is an involved parent and will keep an eye out.

Perspective is so important, I think I’m laid back but my son’s friends think I’m evil, however my son tells me he has one of the best relationship with his parents amongst his friends… so far I think I like this balance but it will change.

Make time to have conversations, even if its a few minutes in the car ‘What is going really well’, ‘What are you worried about’ , ‘what are your plans for next year’, ‘how is friend x doing’ (it’s remarkable what you learn about your children in how they talk about their friends.)

Can you share any tips on how can parents support their child’s learning in general?

  • Keep a dialogue open and keep a sharp eye on what they are doing, and their mood swings.
  • Don’t be perpetually invasive but make sure you are informed. You should know just by looking at their faces whether they are happy, concerned and act on this swiftly.
  • Don’t ask if they are okay but say ‘I know something is bothering you tell me what it is…’.
    • Don’t behave in a manner that will mean they never share their worries with you – even if it is a grade E in a test which they should have scored an A on. My son has told me things that make me want to scream at what kids are up to these days but you have to remain calm.
  • Place clear boundaries, don’t hesitate to reprimand poor behaviour or laziness but support them in how to improve. One of my sons cannot bear criticism – he sees marking a wrong answer wrong as criticism! So get him to mark it himself, get him to correct it himself, and sometimes its good for him to be well and truly stuck.
  • Explain why criticism is important and that we should seek it at every stage and every age.

It isn’t all wonderful ‘house in the prairie’ sometimes I make him do the most boring questions 15 times because he needs to learn discipline and who is boss!

My older one has no interest in using the fact that I’m a fully qualified mathematics teacher, he would rather struggle with algebra and get poor results (and he is supposed to be an able child!) so I asked him to make a list of his best and worst topics and we began working through the list (first few topics went well…need to revisit that list!) I also asked him to work through online resources which he did enjoy.

In the end we are all trying our best, we also need to take advice. listen to your friends and relatives – ask them if you are too soft or too hard a parent – you don’t have to follow their advice but you must examine why they say what they say. Professional development is an intrinsic part of education and schools but we as parents are also educators yet we have so few opportunities to reflect on our parenting skills, let alone to develop it – we must make these opportunities ourselves. Reflect on how your children speak to you – is this how they would or should speak in school to their teachers – if not then they most certainly should not speak to you like that. I always use this line with my children.

Nothing is perfect so the one other thing I do is pray … that my sons will be good citizens of this world,  who will grow up to be good men  and contribute to humanity in some way.
Which of these great tips was your favourite? Have you tried any of these tactics before? Do you think that a mix of being laid back and strict is effective? Tell me in the comments below!
Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider

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One thought on “Discover the Secrets of How a Top Educator Supports Her Kids Education

  1. What an excellent insight into educators as parents, parents as educators! I can certainly identify with many of the responses by your interviewee. With one teenager and another pre-teen, my top trick is to be ready for ‘all change’ at any time.

    Children are growing and changing every day, in both obvious and subtle ways. Being aware and maintaining the right amount of interest in their daily experiences, personal development and academic progress is crucial to good parenting. What works for one child may not work for another but it is possible to set some ground rules that apply to all of them.

    I particularly appreciate the point about parents taking the time to reflect on their own actions and methods. Without self-evaluation, it is hard to respond with what’s best for each child and situation.