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Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the label “helicopter parent”—the hoverer over the college student. Or perhaps “lawn mower” parent—the parent cutting down anything in their student’s path.

There’s even a seasonal lawn mower parent—the “snow blower” who clears obstacles out of their student’s way. Quite likely, these or similar terms have contributed to less than optimal relationships between families and colleges to promote student success.

The challenge with labels is they do not always reflect the story behind what others initially see and perceive. Behind these particular labels, there is likely a rich story about your student—a story that reflects your passion for helping them achieve a milestone that will shape and perhaps pivot the trajectory of their life.

In this same story, college educators have the unique opportunity, (to paraphrase a colleague), to believe in and foster miracles for other people’s children. Our collective aspirations, hopes, and goals for students’ success, therefore, requires families and college communities to develop an unprecedented partnership that helps students successfully construct and narrate their own story.

Perhaps a role, then, of parent/family is that of contributing author? After all, you are guiding your student in crafting their college story; specifically, you:

  • Are deeply familiar with their talents and strengths—strengths that colleges need you to help your student identify/articulate, as institutions design experiences to sharpen their skills
  • Provide unconditional support, as they question and stretch themselves, pushing beyond what they believe is their highest potential
  • Serve as a mirror to help them balance vision and possibilities, while navigating evolving expectations in/outside the college environment
  • Are a trusted resource that can reinforce the strategies, communications, and best practices the campus draws upon to foster your student’s success
  • Are a safe space for failure, fracture, and recovery – and therefore wise counsel for colleges to create spaces that foster healthy choices, risk-taking, and resilience

Contributing authors not only spend time writing their portions of the story, but recognize their work is dependent upon the strength of the entire book. To that end, your contributing authorship requires your:

  • Commitment to ask questions to your student and to colleagues in the college environment about the desired outcomes for their success
  • View of colleagues in the college environment as deeply invested in and honored by the opportunity to contribute to your student’s story
  • Active learning about college language, resources, and cultural practices to project consistent messages across your student’s experience
  • Remaining curious about your student’s academic, co-curricular, personal, and professional experiences on campus through questions that prompt them to identify pathways to a solution
  • Willingness to share your stories of struggle and disappointment to help normalize their experiences
  • Ability to view your student as our “colleagues-in-training” in the college environment—
  • recognizing the power of learning is realized as we do the work through students not for students

And as the writing continues…

  • Work with your student to build an evolving “glossary of terms” and FAQs about college (generally), and the specific institution(s) they are interested in and/or attending
  • Utilize student and/or parent and family websites, portals, etc., to decode/deconstruct language and experiences that may be unfamiliar; take advantage of listed contacts
  • Together with your student create lists and have discussions about the areas of college life you believe you (1) can control, (2) may not be able to completely control, but can influence, and (3) require additional comfort in “letting go” of control. Use this information as a getting ready/getting started guide to understand where you need additional information/resources, and who your champions are on campus/in your home community
  • In this uncertain Covid-19 world of college planning, identify your worries and concerns and compare/contrast those to your student’s worries and concerns. Equally important, identify what you are most looking forward to about college and compare/contrast those to your students’ points of excitement! What’s the same/different?
  • Continue to ask your student about their “why”; help them develop the skills to articulate what they are driving towards. There will be many in and around the campus community who believe in and are committed to helping them achieve their “why”

While no partnership is perfect, the triad relationship between student, parent/family, and college community is one that is built on a shared goal. Our willingness to try and trust will take us farther together as we build these necessary partnerships for all students’ success.

About Michelle Samuels-Jones, Ed.D.

Michelle is Vice President For Student Success at Credo and partners with colleges to foster student achievement. Michelle’s background encompasses academic/student affairs, diversity and inclusion, and college administration across a variety of higher education settings. She earned her B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Virginia and Ed.D. from Northeastern University.