As parents, we often just assume that our children and foster children have the same goals in school that we have for them in school. I understand this from a few different angles. As a teenager I really struggled in school. As a teacher I’ve seen many students struggle, and I’ve found that when parents, students, and teachers have a shared plan, students achieve more in school. Here are a few keys to having a good plan for your foster student.
Be on the same page
I know that this sounds easy, but it is vitally important. You need to be on the same page as your student and their teacher. This plays a big part in your student’s success. If you think that only B’s and A’s are acceptable and your foster kid thinks anything above an “F” is acceptable, you need to get on the same page. Imagine how frustrating it must be for a student to feel that his C- is a great achievement, only to go home to disappointed parents who expect B’s or higher. Have a talk with your foster kids. Make sure that they know what is expected of them in school. Also, have a talk with their teachers. Let them know what you expect out of your foster kids, and even what you expect from them as a teacher.
Keep in mind that it is wise to set realistic expectations. If you have a foster youth who has always struggled in school, anything above a C- might be good enough for a little while. When you are getting on the same page, be sure to take everyone’s thoughts and opinions into consideration.
Start with a plan
Once you have established expectations, and you are all on the same page, create a plan. This is simple. Simply set up rewards for desired behaviors and consequences to correct negative behaviors. For example, if your foster son gets in trouble, and you are called to visit with the principal, have a plan already in place. In our home a negative phone call home results in a loss of a privilege (maybe an hour of TV). A visit with the principal would result in loss of privileges and an additional chore or two. The beauty of having the plan in place is that they know what is coming before you even get called. You made the plan before anything ever happened, so your foster youth knows that it was not made in anger.
On the flip side, have a plan for positive consequences, or rewards. When one of our foster kids had a positive phone call, or letter, or email, they would earn extra TV or video game time. It is important that when you make your plan, you account for both the good and the bad. Make sure that you give your foster kids a strong reason to avoid trouble by doing specific things from your plan. In our plan we focused on a few key things: on-task in every class, positive behavior in every class, responsibility (staying caught up), and respect. Our youth had the opportunity to earn either rewards or consequences each day at school.
Provide the structure
Some of our youth didn’t need much structure with this. We let them do their own thing in school, they met our expectations, and it seemed to be easy. If that’s the case, let them do this their own way. Other kids, however, needed additional structure. It is up to you to provide that. One of the things that we do to increase the structure of our expectations is to require our youth to complete a “School Note” everyday. It doesn’t have to be everyday of their life, but when one of your foster kids is struggling in school, this is a good tool. The school note tracks their behavior, if their on-task in class, and if they’re caught up in class. We often only do the school note if their grades fall below a certain level, or if we have reports of negative behavior.
The school note is kind of a motivator in our home. Our youth know that if they don’t do what is expected, we will have daily communication with their teachers via the school note.
Another way to add to the structure is to have the same routine every morning before school and after school. We have specific homework times, depending on your grades and behaviors. If your grades are all A’s, you only need to do a half an hour study period. C’s through B’s and you’ve got one hour. Anything under a C gets you two hours of study.
Unfortunately, foster kids are very prone to struggle in school. Many people have given up on them. Please don’t give up on them. You’ll be surprised how much you can help them in school if you simply do a few little things to support them. These are only a few of the things that we have tried, but they are some of the more successful things.
Good luck! And, let us know what has worked for you.