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7 Steps to Turning Around a Bad School Year

05/24/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 07/24/2012 05:12 EDT

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It arrives. The phone call you've been dreading. It's your child's (pick a subject) teacher, or the vice-principal and they're calling to tell you that your child sucks and that you are a bad parent. It's all your fault, not theirs, and what are you going to do about it?

They don't actually say that, but isn't that what you're hearing in your head when you get the call? If you got that call or note, you are in very good company. There are so many people in the exact same situation that it is scary. It's not about you. It's not about your child. It's not about the school. It's about finding a new way because the old way obviously isn't working.

Now there are a few anomalies where what wasn't working may still work, but something extraordinary has to happen (abducted by aliens, a shining light speaking to you, you go into a cave and see Darth Vader), but for most situations, that scary voice of your vice-principal in your head is on the right track... just the wrong solution.

Here are the steps to bring long-term results.

Step 1: Let go of expectations. Telling your child that they have to start working 73 hours a day may seem like commons sense to you, but if it worked they would have done it already.

Step 2: Divide and conquer. Have your child look at all their coming exams, write out the dates and times and include what will be covered on the test and highlight all the problem parts. Write down the number of how many days are left until that exam.

Step 3: Pick a number. Ask them realistically how much time they are willing to study on a daily basis. Anything from one and a half hours to two hours a day is a great starting point. Tell them they can choose one day of the week to not study at all and suggest that they really think about which day would be best as their break day.

Step 4: Less is more-or-less OK. This is not about studying for the right amount of time. This is about giving up on thinking it's hopeless and starting to take control of a daily schedule and "owning it" for them. If they do 15-20 minutes of each subject and that is 15 minutes more then they would have done, they are off to a really good start.

Step 5: Be their cheerleader, not their jailer. Ask them what they have done in their studies for the past few days, if they are willing to share it. If they missed something, do not react! Just ask if they have figured out how to deal with the lost time or was it just a way to learn to do better from now on. Let them be in charge. The idea here is to let them see what a bit of regular daily self-discipline can do and learn from the outcome.

Step 6: Lather, rinse, repeat. At the end of the first week, suggest that you both sit down and look at the results of the past week's study program. Ask them if they would like to share how they are feeling about what they have accomplished. Suggest that they increase their study time by a small factor and see how that feels. Let them write out the new schedule and let them go at it.

Step 7: Review. If it is too late for this year, suggest that the next time they do the same process, they begin earlier and include a two week review time. If there is time this year for even one day of review, have them plan to get through all the work with one day of review, even if it is just for one course, and see what it brings them. When kids are asked to offer their opinion in a genuine way, two things happen: they feel empowered and they usually rise up to the opportunity, and you may learn something really good about your child that you never knew before.

What you are building in them is the faith to put down their toys (whatever they may be) for a bit of time each day and build a steady practice of self-growth with the idea that it may serve them well. This is difficult for some people and if you got that phone call or note, your child is probably part of that very large club.

It isn't really about the marks or the tests, it's about building character and belief in one's self through a daily practice. This work, when mirrored back as being worthwhile, will last a lifetime and continue to grow. Focus on the accomplishments even if the outcome sucks and you will have turned a struggling student into someone who can consider taking a chance on success.

May the non-nagging force be with you.

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