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Recipe for Success

A pinch of this, sprinkle of that equal a great school year


  1. Student, any age
  2. Parents, two or more
  3. Talented teachers,
  4. Administrators/School
  5. Leadership
  6. Curriculum
  7. School

Combine the student and the school. Blend in healthy doses of curriculum, teachers and administrators. Be sure to sift in frequent and honest communication between parents, teachers and administrators. Knead in good and bad information. Do not simmer. Remain open and flexible. Keep the temperature from getting too hot or too cold for about 10 months and voila−a great school year.


All schools encounter and serve a broad range of parents absent, involved and over-involved. If you are reading this article, it’s not very likely that you will fall into the first category. Most likely, you fall into the middle category, which does a fine job of being involved and aware, questioning when necessary, remaining polite and praising great teaching, guidance and problem-solving when appropriate. If, however, you fall into the third category, please consider that parental over-involvement can have a negative impact on your child’s ability to cope with the challenges that will arise later in life. Allowing children to fail, whether it is something minor such as a poor grade or something potentially more significant such as a bad choice, results in a valuable learning opportunity that all children must experience.


The teachers who are most successful are those who teach students, not merely subjects. To be highly effective, teachers must build relationships with their students. This requires an investment of time. Great teachers always have time for students. They understand that they must strive to reach the individuals in front of them. Those who teach to where the class should be often miss the mark by failing to connect to the class where it is. Teaching every individual is extremely hard but very necessary. The best teachers have a passion for what they teach and whom they teach.


This is the ingredient that has probably the least variability upon first glance. What students learn in English, mathematics, science, etc. is not widely different between schools. Where differences exist is the ways content is presented and, most importantly, how children learn to deal with each other, the adults in their community and the world. This often is often called the hidden curriculum and it varies tremendously from school to school. A school’s choices in its hidden curriculum can become deeply imbedded in the school’s culture and that culture is crucial in shaping your child. Do the children in your child’s school, particularly middle and high school, regard adults as the enemy or as sources of guidance and assistance on the path to adulthood? Does your school provide meaningful opportunities for children to grow in important ways through experiences in athletics and the arts as well as leadership opportunities? How does the school community deal with both success and adversity?

Administrators/School Leaders

Administrators need great ears and eyes to cultivate a genuine openness with parents. Sometimes that’s difficult because of the heat of the moment, but I have always been influenced by a wise colleague who taught me that “Every parent is only as happy as their least happy child.” This adage reminds me of the place parents typically are coming from when they lodge a complaint or question an action. It helps me to help everyone in the situation move forward when I can validate the feelings that have risen to the surface.

Great administrator eyes are for developing and communicating a vision of what school can and should be. The leaders who have vision and who effectively articulate that vision create a positive culture and community.


The abiding culture of every school is crucial to every student’s and every family’s experience. Students and their families thrive when school is a place:

  • Where you are known and valued
  • Where adults have time for you
  • Where trust is built and evidenced in countless daily interactions
  • Where adults model the virtues we hope to instill in our students

As parents, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to both seek and shape the best possible environments for our children. I hope this exploration of the ingredients necessary for a positive educational experience helps you provide the very best for your children. Have a great school year.

Mark Heller is head of school at Academy at the Lakes, a Pre-K3 – 12th grade independent school in Land O’Lakes that serves families from Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, and Hernando counties. Visit for more information.

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