As a lifelong educator with 25+ years serving within public schools, I’ve seen teaching trends change from whole-group learning to targeted skill groups, from flashcards to computer programs, and from seated instruction to virtual learning. Each trend is always striving to close the achievement, equity, and success gap between children.
However, the secret sauce component is having a dad or father figure engaged in a student’s educational journey. Typically, a realm is reserved for moms to check backpacks, volunteer, sign permission slips, and attend parent conferences. Each of these tasks are important and greatly appreciated, but the real change occurs when dads enter the schoolhouse, pay attention, ask questions, read to their children, and talk with the classroom teacher. This simple formula almost always moves behavior and achievement in the right direction. There's something about a dad meeting with a child’s teacher, setting academic and behavioral expectations, and encouraging their child(ren) to strive in the classroom that makes a difference. Kids look up to their dads, grandpas, uncles, and other father figures for guidance and direction. Positive male role models who engage with their child’s education reach superhero status and have untapped influence to support kids in new ways.
In September, Cedar Ridge Elementary in Branson kicked off the Good Dads Strong Schools program with an early morning discussion and donuts. Principal Dr. Michelle Collins is passionate about creating opportunities for parents to engage. What was predicted to be a small event turned into welcoming over 400 father figures! They ran out of donuts, but more than a dozen men stepped up to be Good Dads Strong School Champions to help organize and lead future programs. Why did so many dads attend this morning program?
These Good Dads Strong Schools events provide a special time for kids and dads to engage, break bread, and share what they appreciate about each other. There is nothing like hearing a dad proclaim to a packed cafeteria the appreciation he has for his daughter’s laughter, how she helps around the house, and how caring she is as a big sister. The daughter then replies, “I love my dad because he cares for me and my brother.” It seems simple because it is. These are the moments created at these programs, which get stamped into the memory of kids. I can still remember when my dad joined me for lunch at school when I was eight years old.
So how do you engage at the secondary level? With two boys in high school, I can tell you, it can be tough. First, dads need to encourage their children to get involved in their school community. Join the chess club, play an instrument, attend games and plays. Research has proven this point over and over: An engaged student, regardless of activity, has increased daily attendance, fewer discipline problems, and an increased grade point average.
In addition to encouraging students to get involved, I strongly recommend dads get synced to their child’s digital grade book. The days of the red grade book have disappeared, and all assignments and grades are posted in Canvas or Blackboard. Having real-time access to my sons’ their grade books, I’m able to set notifications to push me alerts when assignments are due and when grades have been posted. When assignments are graded, I send a screenshot and thank my boys for being responsible. When it’s not going well, I ask them what their plan is to fix the situation. Because I’m connected to their digital grade book, they know I’m paying attention and will ask questions.
Furthermore, I have the boys study at the kitchen table, so I can walk by and see what they are learning. I typically don’t know the content, but with a few questions, the boys can provide me with some details for me to determine if they are paying attention. I also encourage the boys to use their resources like calling friends, searching the internet, emailing teachers, and asking for help. This is hard, but they need to learn that asking for help is ok. The one thing I still can’t get over is how they play music on their phone while they study. I can’t do it, but it doesn’t seem to bother them and it’s not worth the battle.
As a father of three, I’ve always wanted the best for my kids, but in reality, I know I’ll disappoint them with my words and actions. My dad left a hole in my heart with his absenteeism; I hope to leave a smaller hole in my children’s hearts by being engaged in their school activities and by loving their mom. We all strive to provide a better life for our kids and strive to be a Good Dad, not a perfect dad. Let’s build a legacy worth imitating.