As you read this you may well be on holiday. Enjoying a change of scenery and a well-deserved break. Your priority will be spending time with your rangatahi, building great memories as you spend relaxed time together. Unhurried. No pressure. Just being. 

Now is the perfect time to touch on school. 

It is in these unhurried moments that parents have the opportunity to plant ideas that will influence attitudes. These small moments can have an enormous impact on the lives of your rangatahi further along in the school year, and even later in their lives. 

Think back to your memories of your school years. Why were you going to school? I went to school because:

  • I had to, it was expected of me
  • To see my friends
  • To learn
  • For sports

Educational achievement was an expectation in the household I grew up in. My Dad didn’t get the opportunity to even attend secondary school. He grew up in a rural area – Great Barrier Island – and there was only a primary school on the island. When he left school at age 12 his teacher wrote in his final report, “Trevor would benefit from attending secondary school as he is a bright and curious young man.” That opportunity didn’t arrive for him for a number of reasons: 

– he was needed to work on the family farm

– people in rural areas didn’t go to secondary school

– there was no money to send him or his five siblings away to school

– secondary school education wasn’t considered useful 

Even the opportunity to complete secondary school by correspondence wasn’t encouraged and as a consequence, when he left the island later in life he ended up working in jobs that were suitable for an unqualified worker. His teacher was right, he did have a bright and curious mind although I doubt the work his employers gave him provided him with many chances to use it. 

I’m telling you this story as a background for the expectation that then permeated my upbringing. School was an opportunity and one that we were all expected to make the most of. My siblings and I all completed secondary school and tertiary studies as a result of this expectation that ran through our upbringing. We kept going because we had the opportunity, and the encouragement, to do so. 

I don’t remember being particularly engaged in the academic side of my schooling, although the social and sporting activities made school fun and enjoyable for me. I did my best most of the time and went to school with an attitude of intending to be a student who passed so I could have options later in life. And that worked for me. 

I was encouraged to see school as a vehicle for success and my parents provided a lifestyle that worked to make that happen. They said things to me like:

  • “Do your homework.”
  • “Get out of bed, now.”
  • “Make your lunch.”
  • “Put your uniform in the wash.”
  • “Do your best.”
  • “I don’t understand your homework. Don’t ask me.”
  • “It’s important to do well at school so you have choices later in life.”

All pretty much stock standard comments that they would have been regurgitating from parent-teacher interviews and maybe from work colleagues. With Dad, in particular, he wouldn’t have had a frame of reference for how to parent a child through secondary school so it would have been a lot of guesswork on his behalf. 

Fast forward 30 years and my rangatahi have now finished college. I heard myself saying the things above, the things that were said to me. I also heard myself starting conversations deliberately. Conversations that were designed to give my rangatahi a lot more buy into their education. I believe that when my kids want to do something, they will be more invested in the results they get. And to that end, holidays offered themselves as a fabulous chance to do a bit of ‘seed planting’ as I engaged my rangatahi in a few casual, yet important, conversations. 

I  encourage you to explore with your rangatahi topics like:

  1. What success means to them.
  2. The things they enjoy about school.
  3. What they’d love to have the chance to do.
  4. Which friends they think they’ll keep in contact with when school has finished.
  5. What matters most to them.

These unhurried conversations are gold. Be really reflective as they share their hopes and dreams with you, keep the conversations going by restating their thoughts using sentence starters like:

  • “It sounds like you …”
  • “It feels like you …”
  • “I’m hearing you say …” 

Keep your own opinions and thoughts out of the conversations and be an excellent listener. When you find your rangatahi having second thoughts about wanting to head back to school you will have some gems they’ve shared with you as reminders about why they’re doing what they’re doing and making the choices they’re making. 

Before we know it we’ll be back at school and given the disruptions of the past few years, this could potentially be a time of high anxiety for many of our rangatahi. Right now they need you, their parent, to guide them. And to be just that. Their parent. 

Have fun and enjoy your holiday conversations.