Your Student Has Been Away at Boarding School For a Few Weeks Now: What the Heck is Going On?

Your Student Has Been Away at Boarding School For a Few Weeks Now: What the Heck is Going On?

Residential Life via Pomfret School

It’s time to revisit another article that I’ve kept floating on my desk since April – Keith Robinson and Angel Harris’ Parental Involvement is Overrated. (Yes, I really do keep articles on my desk and in mind.)

The piece may have run in April but I think for new – and to a lesser extent returning – boarding school parents, this piece, and research, are most timely around late September and early October.

First time boarding school parents may be receiving more Skype calls, phone calls, texts, and emails than they expected from a homesick student. Other parents may be hearing nothing.

Both, and everything in between, conjure parental anxiety – most of which occurs for boarding school parents because you’re not there. You’re not in school; you’re not nearby; you’re not present (unless you’re one of the families now buying homes close to your student’s boarding that The New York Times covered); you feel like you’ve lost control.

It’s 7:30 in the evening, what is Johnny doing? It’s 6:30 in the morning. I hope Suzy’s getting ready for class; I wonder if she’ll go to breakfast?

Robinson and Harris conclude that, even without you present, your student will most likely do fine.

“…the notion that kids do better in school when their parents are involved does not stack up,” write Robinson and Harris…

In fact, there were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved. Even more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children’s achievement are more often negative than positive…

…our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.”(NYT)

Wow, it sounds like boarding school might work.

So what do Robinson and Harris find does work?

As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.

Do our findings suggest that parents are not important for children’s academic success? Our answer is no. We believe that parents are critical for how well children perform in school, just not in the conventional ways that our society has been promoting. The essential ingredient is for parents to communicate the value of schooling…”(NYT)

What do you do as a boarding school parent?

You’ve already practiced some Robinson and Harris most important findings.

You’ve established that you value education simply by working through the boarding school admission process and having your student matriculate.

From here, stay engaged with your boarding school. Visit campus if possible. Affirm and reinforce the school’s structures and practices – even when they stretch and make your student uncomfortable; that’s growth. Maintain expectations for your student – even from a distance. Ask questions. In simplest terms, make sure that your student is out-and-about and doing things.

Support the faculty; they’re structuring; setting expectations; driving learning, change, achievement, and growth – every day. Let your student know, and encourage your student to, respect and value their work.

You’ll be amazed how, in a boarding school, each student often finds that one particular teacher.

It’s a situation similar to the one Michael Thompson writes about in Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents:

In his masterwork, ‘Childhood and Society,’ Erik Erikson reminds us that not all learning comes from ‘systematic instruction.’ In preliterate societies and in non-literate pursuits, he points out, ‘much is learned from adults who become teachers by dint of gift and inclination rather than by appointment and perhaps the greatest amount is learned from older children (italics are mine).’”(NYT)

Learning from each other and from the community, sometimes without speaking, is one of the strongest fibers in good boarding schools.

Amazingly, growth and change occur, perhaps most effectively, without mom and dad close by.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

More by Brian Fisher

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