Every August my thoughts turn to back to school activities. As a parent, I recall all the preparation that it took to make certain my daughters were ready for the beginning of a new school year. Whether it was securing all the school supplies needed, completing required paperwork, signing up for classes and activities or attending back to school events the amount of information and details often felt overwhelming.

My goal was to help my daughters be prepared so that they would start the school year on the best possible footing. When school communication was streamlined, timely and easy to understand it made a world of difference. 

Moving from one grade level to the next often brought opportunities and challenges. This was certainly the case when one daughter transferred from a small middle school to a large high school. She was terrified to make this change — nervous about navigating the high school and finding her way. When we visited the high school for the 9th grade orientation, kind words from an assistant principal made all the difference. He assured her that it was okay to feel this way and let her know that they were excited for her to be there and looked forward to supporting her in this transition. This conversation eased her mind as well as mine about the change in schools and made her feel welcome. It was a brief interaction with a positive and profound impact.

As you head back to your classroom or school office, my colleagues have some ideas for you to consider to help make it a great new year:


Back to school is symbolic of new beginnings. Parents should view this time as the perfect opportunity to review a student’s previous progress and set new goals. Review your child’s previous academic performance and grade point average (GPA). Ask your child’s teacher(s) questions to gain an understanding of classroom and learning expectations. Set achievable goals that focus on growth and develop a support plan to get assistance or tutoring to reach these goals. Remember, student’s can move their GPA much easier with less semesters recorded on their transcript. From a social perspective, if their child has not been involved maybe this is the perfect time to connect with a club or activity. Remember, in the beginning of the year, clubs and activities are newly forming and expect new faces. Students who are involved in one or more activities typically have a .5 gpa higher than students not involved. The beginning of the new school year is an exciting time of renewal and change. The old phrase, “you need to do something different to get different results”. What are you doing to support your child’s different result? —Dr. Matthew Liberatore, LCPC, Senior Advisor


Schools are systems that may be complex for parents to understand. Finding ways to break down the information related to systems is important to engage parents. We are in an age of visualization and getting immediate information.  As an example, take the student handbook and do short video clips on important regulations: attendance, grading, and dress code. Post these on the main site on a dedicated video page and share the page with your parents. Don’t forget to do an instruction video on the parent portal log in, what to look for, where the information on student classroom work can be found and how to monitor.  Some resources for video presentations include: Loop, Piktochart, and Powtoon. These are simple tools that will help parents understand how schools work as the year begins.—Deborah Hardy, Ed.D, Senior Advisor


Parents are often just as excited and anxious about the start of a new school year as their children, especially if children are revealing anxiety. Parents will breathe a sigh of relief if they hear from teachers and support staff right at the start of the year–before any real issues arise–that they have an eager and committed team working with them in support of  their child’s success. Such proactive outreach may take the form of an email, a call, a letter or even a home visit–a simple gesture can lay the foundation for trust, optimism and confidence about the year ahead.—Patricia Gagnon, SVP, Programs & Practice

Paying attention to the little things can make a big difference. When parents, teachers and school staff work together, to support a child’s success, the school year will start well and lay the foundation to go well.  

Mary Docken

Mary Docken

Mary Docken is vice president, outreach at Intellispark. Mary has extensive experience in education having served as director of admission at two colleges in the Midwest as well as director of college counseling at Mounds Park Academy in Saint Paul, MN. before joining Naviance in 2006 which was acquired by Hobsons in 2007.