By Betsy Burrows
Everyday Education 

Be A Savvy Parent: Go Ask Alice Wellborn


Of all the classes I teach, I probably learn the most from our weekly student teaching seminar. The student teachers bring their experiences to share with each other as we critically reflect on their teaching and learning in our schools.

After the first month of classroom teaching when I asked the students to share their largest concerns about education, you would be surprised at one common answer. The student teachers, with their excitement and idealism and dedication, are most disappointed with parents. One exasperated student teacher related how an elementary school parent, “wrote home complaining about having to read to her child at night, arguing that this was the teacher’s job.”

Another student teacher sat through a parent teacher conference amazed at the disrespectful and belligerent attitude of the parent and told our class: “It is not the student who needed an attitude adjustment; it was the parent who was blaming everyone for their child’s behavior instead of working with the teacher and counselor to find a solution.”

For the parents reading this column, please know that one empathetic student came to your defense, saying, “You know parents are learners too, and it is not an easy job to raise kids in this culture.”

We then talked about the importance of seeing education as a partnership between the student, teacher, the parent, the family, the school, and the larger community.

I have read many books about parenting and an equal number of books about public education. One of the most helpful books I have read is one just revised and updated by a recently retired school psychologist and educator Alice Wellborn: “The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School.”

Since Alice gave me a copy about a month ago, I have been reading from her book weekly to my student teachers, knowing that as 21st century teachers one of their most important skills will be their ability to communicate well with parents and the community as an educator both in and out of the classroom.

Alice’s book is part workbook that offers parents guidelines to setting up home routines that support school learning and that offers checklists for helping parents to prepare for school conferences.

Between the practical exercises and assignments, Alice becomes a storyteller who offers us little gems of wisdom from her 30 years of working as a school psychologist to the personal stories from the parenting of her own three children. Throughout she reminds you of the one most important thing parents can do to help their children be successful: “Let your children know that you and the teacher are a team—a team that is working together to help them grow up to be smart and successful. “

Much of Alice’s book is supported by research. One piece of advice is her suggestion that parents and children eat dinner together, even if it’s just a sandwich or a bowl of soup: “Talk with one another. No TV during the meal.”

My favorite memories of parenting are the conversations during mealtimes and even today when my children come home we stay in the kitchen cooking, and talking, and sharing our thoughts about religion, politics, books, and our lives. I love it that research from Purdue University and Harvard’s School of Education support Alice’s advice and my family experiences with data that shows that eating meals together as a family is one of the best predictors of a child’s academic success and one of the few indicators that stays constant across all socio-economic differences.

So my advice to all those parents who ask me how to have successful children is twofold: Cook, eat, and converse together with your children at dinnertime with no technology or distraction at the table, and learn how to partner with teachers and schools to help your child. Raising successful children might really be easier than you think. Ultimately, I suggest you follow the Buddhist-inspired approach of a parent in Pamela Druckerman’s book, “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting”: total commitment to the process, total equanimity, or calmness, about the outcome.

You can purchase Alice’s book at or Highlands, our community bookstore. Alice’s website, School provides free downloads for many of the worksheets and organizers. And you can read Alice’s columns here at Everyday Education.

(Betsy Burrows is director of Teacher Education at Brevard College.)


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