THE BLOG
09/22/2015 01:20 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2016

Harvard Making Education a Priority for Everyone

It's no big secret that parents, educators and esteemed academics agree that a first-rate education needs to be a priority for everyone today. It can't be reserved just for the chosen ones; those who live in a better zip code or who are born into the "right" ethnic group. Education should not discriminate.

But, unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal society, so it's up to individuals to become an advocate for their own child and/or school.

Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is diligently working to help teachers, families and schools have a better understanding of education in the U.S., in the hopes that this knowledge and awareness will lead to improvement. For example, they are helping teachers understand how to motivate students no matter where they come from or what their home circumstances might be. They are helping parents understand how to make time to get involved and make school a part of a daily conversation with their children. Their goal is to help teachers, parents, and schools take advantage of opportunities that exist to provide a better education for all. One place we can start, according to HGSE, is to focus on teens.

So where are we missing the opportunities for teens?

1. Tenth Grade. Nancy Hill, Professor of Education at Harvard, said, "10th grade is a tender time." Prior to 10th grade parents are mostly focused on a child's transition into high school, then after 10th grade it's all about college choices.

In the tenth grade the importance of the child's school experience seems to decrease for parents, and with this the teen's wellbeing starts dipping too, with no one taking notice. Additionally, the student is taking the SAT and PSAT and feeling stressed. They are wondering if they can and/or will achieve what are they supposed to since no one is paying attention to them.

Believe it or not, teenagers are worried about the job market and their prospects for the future, and meanwhile parents have stopped checking in on them, and stopped worrying about their homework, or even asking them any questions about their future.

According to Hill, parents need to get involved in authentic ways. Having conversations with teens about their goals and planning with them about how to get there is one way to get started. Teens want to know that their parents are there for them.

If parents don't get involved, they can risk losing a10th grader to risky behavior or other negative social involvement.

2. Sex Education. Most schools have health education classes that teach teens about sex, STD's and teen pregnancy. However, Richard Weissbourd, Faculty Director of Human Development and Psychology Program at Harvard, challenges parents and schools to prepare young people for love.

Who is teaching or preparing our children about real relationships? With all the online chatter about young people loving everyone and in love with so much, the emotions involved with actually falling in love in real-life and how to prepare for that have become diminished. Relationships need to be nurtured. Love is much deeper and more complex than a quick emoji of a heart on a social media page can ever capture.

Today's society, with the help of technology, is diminishing how we value true relationships.

Weissbourd believes that parents and schools fall short in preparing teens for this very important part of their lives. So open up a dialogue about your own experiences, which brings us to the next point...

3. Model, Practice, Discuss. This one is for parents, teachers and any adult who mentors youth. Stephanie Jones, Associate Professor at Harvard, reiterates that education happens not only at school; what happens in your home, in their environment, and your behavior (offline and online) is being absorbed by teens 24/7.

Non-academic skills are just as important to their future as are their grades in school. They can be central to keeping teens from getting involved in drugs and/or keeping them out of the justice system.

Additionally, modeling self-control and your own impulsiveness when you are angry is critical. Teens need to learn people skills and social competence for handling stress in their lives (and there is plenty of it). Be a role model for them. It's not easy, and if you do lose your cool, be sure to have a discussion about your wrongdoings. None of us are perfect, which is where practice comes in handy. Experts suggests role-playing with children when it comes to bullying or risky situations, such as being approached by a stranger. Teens are not too old to practice these skills with adults too.

Talk about your frustrations; after all, you are human (even if they may not think so!). It is important to be comfortable, honest, and genuine with teens. All aspects of learning, academic and social-emotional, are important for their future.

4. Citizenship Matters. Meira Levinson, Professor of Education at Harvard, explains that citizenship is having a sense of belonging, it is feeling welcomed. When a student enters their school and gets scanned for weapons rather than being greeted with a friendly smile and hello - what does that say to them? It's not exactly a feeling of warmth and nurture. Sadly - it's the culture some teens live in.

How do teens feel when they enter the school bathroom? Are they in fear of being bullied or beaten up? We recently witnessed the incident in Maryland where a 17 year-old boy violently beat-up another student in the cafeteria. When schools don't exercise good citizenship, it doesn't help our students to feel safe. We must work on building and instilling good citizenship in all schools for all students. Parents and teachers must work together to make this happen.

Education is key to our children's future. HGSE is making great strides in exploring many aspects of improving learning and teaching for families, students and their environments. We can all write and talk about it, however it's when we all start putting these things into action that can start to make a difference.

Takeaway tips:

• Howard Gardner, Professor at Harvard said, "Good work is excellence, engagement and ethics. Be good at what you do, care about what you do, and do it right."
Online education today is just as imperative as offline.
• Education and parenting doesn't have to be complicated, keep it simple.