1.Tell us a bit about your new Life Coaching endeavor!
In a way I have just formalized what I have been doing during all of my personal and professional life. As a parent, teacher and educational administrator I spent a large portion of my time and energy dealing with the inevitable issues that arise as children and families grow and learn; child development, work/family balance, etc. As a therapeutic foster parent, I received a lot of training and experience supporting adolescents and young adults in defining their life’s purpose and goals and figuring out how to make their own dreams come true. Becoming a Life Coach is a natural progression for me; I have developed additional skills that are used to listen deeply, ask meaningful questions, clarify goals and determine strategies and accountabilities for reaching those goals. To me, it is taking parenting, teaching and education to a new professional level and it is a way to share the lessons I have learned through both my professional and life experience.
2. You’re also continuing to offer educational guidance to a select few clients. Can you describe these services?
I am happy to work with families who are embarking on the journey of finding and applying to private/independent schools. I know how these schools operate very intimately and I can assist parents in learning about what kinds of schools are out there and what type of school might be best for their family. I do not do the traditional educational consulting that is offered by those professionals who have built personal relationships with individual schools and admissions directors and advocate directly with these schools for their clients. I work with parents to define and articulate an educational mission statement for their family as well as learn about and choose the schools that seem to be a good fit. From there I shepherd them through the process of the applications and support their ownership of that process. I review applications, help prepare for interviews, brainstorm recommendations, and make sure none of the necessary steps are missed. I am thrilled to help the families who want to maintain control of this most personal and important family building experience.
3. You have such incredible life experience as a wonderful mom, my step-mom, grandmother, foster-mom, wife and educator. How will these experiences help your clients?
I don’t know about the “wonderful” part – I have faced as many challenges and have as many regrets as anyone. But I have had a tremendous amount of experience, so the quantity and variety of my time in these roles has given me the opportunity to reflect, grow, change, and learn some things about what works and what doesn’t. Knowing oneself, knowing what you really value, and striving for the emotional maturity and perspective necessary to realize the life you want does not come without some deep consideration. I want to share the lessons I have learned and use the skills I have acquired to assist others in gaining some of this self-insight and finding the clarity, goals and strategies they need to achieve the life they really want.
4. How do the logistics work if a client wants to work with you and they aren’t in your city?
Coaching is done most often on the phone. Some of us are used to having good, meaningful conversations with friends or family when we need to figure something out. It is often a similar experience to that, albeit with a professional guide and a proven structure to the work. When I work with a client in another part of the country, we set up a regular time to speak on the phone for a prescribed amount of time, usually 45-60 minutes. We establish an agreement for a certain number of sessions. During these conversations we establish a real relationship that becomes quite close, one based on gaining trust, exploring dreams and establishing goals. I become your companion along the way, supporting you and holding you accountable for the actions you choose to take in pursuit of your goals.
At the end of the determined number of sessions, we either establish a new agreement or we end our work together, and you continue on your life’s journey with a new or renewed sense of self and purpose, considered goals and actions, and the knowledge that you can always connect with me to find support.
5. What’s the best advice you can offer parents who are waiting for March 2014 admissions letters?
My best advice is to stay open to all possibilities. Private school admissions is a daunting process and it can seem that if things don’t go just the way you most want them too that all is lost – but this is NEVER the case. There is not only one school for your child. Sometimes there are reasons why things don’t go the way you expect. Stay focused on your core family educational values and be willing to continue to work toward them. Embrace the journey!
What characterizes the quality of a great school is a complex puzzle. The pieces can have different shapes at schools of differing philosophies and missions, but there are a few key ingredients that must be present, regardless of their form. One of the most important elements involves the nature of the relationship between the teachers and the students. It doesn’t matter what grade, discipline, or gender we are talking about – each school’s culture reflects its own way teachers and students interact.
One indicator of the school’s formality (or lack thereof) is set by the way teachers and students address each other. Every school sets a tone regarding how faculty and students relate. There are schools that have quite formal structures that define relationships between faculty and students. Other schools are much less formal and you might observe a student talking to a teacher more like a peer than an authority figure. Both formality and informality are demonstrated by either a practice where students call teachers by their first names or the formal alternative, using sir names for teachers and administrators.
Another defining characteristic is whether there are handshakes or hugs. Observing how teachers and students interact is an important way to determine if the school is a good fit for your family and your child. If you’re offended by students who call their teacher “Jennifer,” than you may want to look at more traditional schools. If you want a school where a teacher kneels down and asks a kid who has fallen down if they are ok, rather than a quick “get up buddy, you’re fine,” you need to look for teacher/student interactions that are nurturing and warm. At the secondary school level, if you want your child to consider their teacher a friend or a “cool” mentor, keep an eye out for this type of less formal student/teacher interaction.
When you’re touring schools or talking to other families about a school, look beyond the classroom to the engagement between teachers and their students. Try to observe informal conversations happening at the school, see where teachers spend time with students on the playground or at lunch, and whether teachers make themselves available informally in their classrooms for homework help or questions. What is important from the parental perspective is to observe these relationships, or talk to families involved in the school you are considering, and try to imagine how your child will feel in various kind of school structures.
Ask yourself if your child will be known, accepted, and included. This goes beyond the name, grade and even interest level of a teacher knowing your kid. You want to feel confident that your child’s teachers will understand your child – strengths, weakness, learning style and the essence of who your child is. When a child feels known and accepted, he/she has the freedom to explore, ask questions, test situations and take risks while feeling confident that she/he has a safety net of understanding that will support these efforts and guide their growth. While this is a subtext of the first issue of safety, this requires a personal level of relationship that empowers students beyond the basic issue of security. Your child can be known, accepted and included in a traditional school where structure and formal teacher/student relationships are the practice or in a less formal school culture. You need to know which type of school culture your child will flourish within. It’s worth noting that the school’s culture will also be reflected in its sports programs, art, music, how discipline is handled and other aspects of the school, not just the time your child spends in class.
We all have challenges that arise, but what we hope for our children is that they are placed in an environment that will deal with inevitable situations and difficult issues in a way that supports the emotional growth of our children and reflects the values that are consistent with those of our families.
The most important aspect of your child’s relationship with their teacher, whether formal or informal, is that your child feels known and accepted.
Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She has more than 30 years of experience as a private school head of school, admissions director and teacher.
If you’ve been staring at a blank application form wondering what to write, nervous about how to describe your child, you’re probably not alone. Writing applications can be exciting once you get going, but its the getting started that can be so hard. We have real applications in Beyond The Brochure for this reason. Its great to see what an accepted family’s application looks like.
Beyond The Brochure co-author Anne Simon offers these essential characteristics of a great written application:
Every private elementary school has its own set of expectations – academic, social, behavioral. When touring schools and considering them for your child and your family, it is helpful to try to get a sense of a school’s expectations so you can determine whether your child will thrive in the school.
While it is easy to see this as dividing into competitive vs. cooperative school environments, it is not quite that simple. It is a bit more of a spectrum between, for example, a school that sets up a strictly competitive model and believes that it is desirable for students to rank themselves and each other in all things. Another type of school might not have grades, keep score, or do summative evaluations of any kind. What is important is to find the school that fits your child.
Expectations are important – children do not know what they can achieve in a vacuum – they need something to measure up against in most things. A standard of excellence gives them this awareness. But these standards must be presented carefully and they must be realistic. What often becomes problematic is that children internalize this standard as a measure of their success or failure. This sets in motion the possibility of constructing an unhealthy competitive situation that can result in all kinds of issues of perfectionism, self worth problems, as well as insider/outsider feelings.
There is a rational way to set expectations without sacrificing the self esteem of our children. If we instill in them the concept of “personal best” and set this as the standard for our expectation of them, they are able to learn to self monitor their achievements in light of their own effort and capacity rather than the achievement of someone else or some vague idea of what excellence might be. This allows children to be challenged while remaining realistic and feel good about their efforts toward this goal. This is when you know that the bar has been set just right.
I have seen this ethic folded into the philosophy of schools that offer students a strong and competitive athletic program with great results. Students could push themselves as far as they were able and still champion the efforts and achievements of their classmates. This same idea was present in the classroom and evident in the caring and supportive relationships among the students and with their teachers.
Of course there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between parents and teachers or coaches and the children in order for this concept to take hold and be effective. Consistently helping your child understand the idea of effort, persistence, and practice, and its value, will help him/her develop these skills. When it comes to looking at and choosing a school, try to get a grasp on how each school interprets this concept of expectations.
Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She has more than 30 years of experience as a head of school and private school administrator. She is the former head of the Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Anne’s daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads.