Can we do better than this piece of advice?

I was at a parent workshop at my son’s school this morning — the topic of the workshop was ELA and NYS Math Test Preparation. In New York City, testing is quite important and in grade four the results determine middle school admissions. We happen to attend good public school and during the truly wonderful display of strategies and question types, the teachers arrived at a slide which told us parents what to do at home.

First on the list? “Don’t stress,” the teacher said quite seriously. In response, awkward laughter filled the room — the kind of laughter brought about by stress.

The principal spoke up at this point saying, “We’ve got this, your kids are working hard here and they are being well prepared; don’t stress.” Again, uneasy tension filled the room. My friend’s eyes met my eyes — we were not speaking, but we communicated, “We are stressed.”

For whatever reason testing and evaluation scares the living crap out of most of us and when it comes to having that experience happen to our kids, I think we’d all agree that there is no real way to avoid it; we feel stress.

When I left the workshop, I had so much work to do, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the idea of stress and what educators and principals could be saying about it to parents who have kids who will take tests to alleviate stress. The notion of “don’t stress,” didn’t feel like the best anyone could be doing, but honestly, I wasn’t sure what exactly else there was to say.

Surely, it is not helpful when parents are freaking out about testing in front of their children. I am a huge believer in the power of energy — the energy we exude is extremely powerful as it collides with others and affects how they feel.

So after a day of thinking about all of this, here is what I have concluded. The advice of “don’t stress” is good advice. It’s true, being stressed does not help; however, the problem is that parents are going to stress. Parenting a child who will take a test is a stressful experience. So, the better way to talk with parents is to acknowledge that stress will happen. Parents will worry and will be stressed about a test, especially one which determines admissions.

The better advice is to acknowledge the possibility of having stress, teach the consequences of it, and then offer strategies on what to do when it happens. Provide plenty of strategies, for everyone will need a different approach. Write down what you are worried about. Talk to someone. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk; do a workout. In the case of testing for a child, I would suggest that a parent become informed about the test and determine precisely what needs to be learned. Along with educators, create a preparation plan and work through it. I never believe that work only happens at school — a strong home-school connection must happen and students must learn to study and work at home. When it comes time to take the test, you and your child will know that everything possible was done to prepare and that will act as an anchor to ward off stress.

So, my answer to my initial question, “can we do better than this piece of advice?” is yes we can. Not only should we not stress, but we need to understand why and what to do instead. It is possible not to stress —have a plan, work through that plan, and have strategies to cope within a stressful situation.

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