"Stage Setting" for Academic Success

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Brad Choyt
We all know parents have a very significant role in the academic success of their children. But exactly what kind of support should parents offer for the greatest long-term impact? One popular response is reading to children regularly, and that certainly has long-term benefits. Other parents may 
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supervise and review nightly homework as a way to stay engaged with the materials and lessons children are learning at school. Some may believe that teaching social skills is the most important support parents can offer; therefore, they make it possible for their children to have a wide range of after-school activities that foster strong relationships. Other parents may choose to prioritize communication with teachers while finding ways to be continually involved at the school through events and meetings.

In their article published in The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Angel Harris and Keith Robinson report that each of these strategies has mixed results on children’s academic performance. Instead, they prefer a “stage setting” strategy. Using the analogy for the behind-the-scenes work that is required for successful productions, they advise parents to support their children’s learning while being careful to not take center stage. In other words, parents should foster the conditions for academic success while respecting the autonomy of their children and their learning process.  

Harris and Robinson recommend several strategies, starting by providing a secure home environment accompanied by a feeling of safety and security. They also believe it’s important to support both school and non-school activities without too much pressure for earning straight As. Harris and Robinson also recommend speaking with children about the connection between academic achievement and long-term options for career success as a way to set goals and develop personal responsibility for learning. And throughout, parents should display confidence in their children’s abilities and intelligence to develop a positive identity. 

As someone who has witnessed an increased number of families with two working parents, I particularly value this research. Even parents with demanding careers can be successful stage setters, shaping their children’s self-perceptions and focusing their goals for the future. In fact, the research by Harris and Robinson indicates that by not micromanaging homework or school activities, children become more autonomous and may be better equipped to overcome academic and personal challenges after they graduate. In other words, as a stage setter, parents create all of the necessary conditions for success today that will continue long after their involvement. And isn’t that what today’s students really need?  


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