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Welcome Back To School! What’s In Your Virtual Backpack?

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Welcome back to school! Welcome back to 180ish days of packing school lunches, managing homework schedules and after-school activities, and ensuring positive relationships with teachers and school staff.

We know it isn’t easy.

We also know it’s worth it.

This year, we can’t wait to share our back-to-school supply list to ensure that you have the best possible school year. In addition to pens and pencils, notebooks and folders, we’ve filled our virtual backpack with some handy strategies, too.

Welcome back to the weirdest back-to-school supply list you’ve ever seen.

A Primer: Competencies

Tuck this primer away in a safe part of your backpack where it won’t fall out.

If you haven’t heard of competencies yet, you will. You need to know what they are, why they’re important, and how you might be able to use them this year.

Competencies are concepts that you learn at a measurably high level, of which you can demonstrate mastery.

Think of them this way: competencies comprise a traditional course. In Algebra 1, for example, you need to master exponential functions, inequalities, linear functions, polynomials, quadratic functions, basic statistics, and systems of equations. Each of those subtopics could be considered competency. Mastery of each competency is measurable.

So. Let’s say you took Algebra 1 last year and mastered some of those competencies, but struggled in others.

In competency-based learning, the focus shifts from grades to mastering competencies. In a traditional system, you can fail certain competencies and ace others, and pass the course. In a competency-based system, you need to master each competency.

Would you want to fly in a plane with a pilot who passed all the courses, but failed a few competencies, like take-off and landing? Probably not.

In a competency-based system, not only do you earn a higher grade, you actually learn the subject

Make sense?

A Recipe: Relationship-building

Relationships are the cornerstone of any successful educational exchange. You’ll never listen to or want to learn from someone you don’t know, don’t like too much, and don’t trust.

As students progress from preschool to elementary, middle, and high school, it’s easy to forget the importance of relationship building. Don’t forget it.

Relationships are critical to your success, regardless of who you are. If you’re a teacher, you need to ensure that you have positive relationships with students and parents. If you’re a parent, you need those open lines of communication between your child and his or her teacher. If you’re a student, you need to know how to advocate for what you need in ways that will garner positive results.

How do you do that? We wish we had a recipe. We don’t. We’ll try.

Ingredients: equal parts honesty, curiosity, open mind, a willingness to ask questions, the ability to listen and collaborate, and the desire to do better. A dash of humor helps.


Step 1:  Get to know the people you’re working with. If you’re a student, get to know your peers and your teachers. If you’re a parent, reach out to say hello to your child’s teacher. If you’re a teacher? Get to know your students. Show them you care. Mean it.

Step 2: Interact daily. Families, try a family meal, even if you’re all eating cereal bars over the counter first thing in the morning. Parents, send an email, or even an old-fashioned postcard thanking a teacher for their efforts.

If someone from your child’s school reaches out to you and wants to make contact, volley back. Respond to emails. Show up to events, as your schedule permits.

Make a habit of specific school discussions with your child. It’s great to ask your child how their school day went, but try specific questions, like “What did you read in English today?” or “How’d that lab in chemistry go?” Specific questions often get specific answers, and if they don’t immediately, don’t worry. They will.

Does your school have social media accounts? Follow or join, as appropriate.

Respond. Engage. Step up.

Step 3: Stir. Repeat. Wait.

Step 4: Voilá! You’ve built relationships! Keep at it! They require work!

How’d we do?

A Calendar: Time Management

You need one. Find one you like and use it. Even better if you can sync it to your phone. We like Google Calendar and iCal. They work well and readily sync across a variety of devices.

Here’s what you need to do:

Block out the times you’re in school, at work, or otherwise busy.
Assign yourself times to work on certain tasks, like homework, after-school activities, sports, meetings, outside appointments, etc.

Be honest with yourself. If you need three hours per day for homework, assign yourself three hours per day. If you have an intense practice or rehearsal schedule, block off those times too, including travel times, and yes, including weekends.

If you’re taking classes, add big due dates to the calendar. Assign yourself time to work on those assignments with plenty of time to spare.

Look at the days and times left. Figure out how you want to spend that time, and put it in the calendar, even if you call it “free time.”

If it’s on the calendar, chances are, you’ll do it.

Once you have all your events scheduled, find the tasks and due dates that will require some work other than simply showing up.

Make a to-do list for each task as you need. If you like to work ahead, make all your to-do lists at once. If you like to operate on a by-project basis, make your to-do lists as you need them. You might even consider an app like ToDoist.

Try it. See what happens!

A Cheerleader’s Pom-Pom: Student support

You need something in your virtual backpack that motivates you. Something that keeps you going. Something that makes you say, “Rah, rah! I can do it!”

Parents, use language that focuses on a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. For example, shift “You’re so smart! You did great on that math test” to “You worked hard on this math test. Is this math too easy for you?”

Growth mindset language inspires you to do better, to want to improve, always.

Students, you need to make sure that you have the support you need to excel. Do you have all of your literal supplies in a real backpack, like notebooks, textbooks, electronic devices, pens and pencils, calculators, and protractors?

Do you have people in your life with whom you can talk, whom you trust? Make sure you can contact them easily.

Do you have the space and place you need to do your work? Are you comfortable in your learning environment? Do you have everything you need to do your best work?

Parents, have you figured out where your child learns best, what he or she needs to learn, and done your best to provide those things? Supporting your child through the educational landscape may change over time.

Your “rah rah” moment comes when you’ve done what you can in terms of motivation to keep your child excited to learn and succeed. By staying involved in your children’s choices, helping them make good decisions that will facilitate positive learning experiences, you become not only your child’s cheerleader, but a motivator, a confidante, and a fellow learner.

Teachers, are you ready for one of the most rewarding jobs in the world? To motivate, to inspire, to make the world a better place?

We hope so.

And we hope your virtual backpack is filled to the brim.

Happy school year!

Interested in enrolling at VLACS? Attend an open house and find out if our school is the right fit for you! Register here.