Punam V. Saxena: “Speak with Your Child”

Speak with Your Child; Often, children are often left out of the conversation of their educational planning. They are seen as a third-party participant when, in fact, they are a participant! Understanding their challenges, listening to them without judgement, and asking them what they need is a powerful way to get a full picture of […]

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Speak with Your Child; Often, children are often left out of the conversation of their educational planning. They are seen as a third-party participant when, in fact, they are a participant! Understanding their challenges, listening to them without judgement, and asking them what they need is a powerful way to get a full picture of their strengths and challenges. They also are more likely to talk ‘with’ you than ‘at’ you. Many families can accomplish this by taking advantage of those times when everyone is catching their breath like in the car or at the dinner table. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask probing questions where children can share the happenings in their lives. Many life skills are learned through this type of conversation such as effective communication, empathy, compassion, problem-solving, and advocating for oneself.

School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?

To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Punam V. Saxena.

Punam V. Saxena is an author, Parent Impact Coach, speaker, and podcaster who is passionate about helping parents become engaged in their child’s education. Through her own experience as a child of Indian immigrants and raising her 4 children, she found that parents who are partners with teachers and administrators often have children who are more confident and better equipped to manage the challenges of school and life.

With 30 years of experience in teaching and advocacy, she has been involved in systemic changes at the school and district levels. Recently, she published a book, Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond which normalizes the daily activities of parenthood. She has spoken at several conferences, been featured in the magazines Shoutout Atlanta, Global Fluency, and Women Who Podcast, and a guest on NBC’s Atlanta & Company, CBS, and FOX. She also enjoys spending time with family, running, reading, and cooking. For more information, check out https://www.edu-Me.net

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?

Sure! As a first-generation Indian American who grew up in The South in the 70s, I struggled to fit in at school socially, but academics were my strength. I loved school, learning, and being immersed in knowledge. It’s where I felt the most comfortable and secure. That is, until one test in second grade changed my life. I didn’t make the ‘grade’ to be admitted into the gifted program. That test shattered my confidence and love of learning for many years.

My immigrant parents, too, were devastated but did not understand how to navigate the education system, that they had a voice, or that they could advocate for me.

Though it was too late for me, they empowered other parents in similar situations to engage and question their options.

Taking their lead, I became a partner in my four children’s education, developing relationships with teachers and administrators, and, in collaboration with the schools, created changes that benefited students throughout the district. After becoming an empty-nester, I decided to share my strategies through a multi-media company that bridges the gap and fosters stronger relationships between parents and schools by empowering parents to become partners in their child’s education.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Attending in a podcast conference in early 2020 soon after the launch of edu-Me, I was eager to learn everything possible so my podcast would be successful and attended as many sessions as I could. One of the last keynote speakers of the conference caught my attention. She was a brilliant storyteller…engaging, funny, emotional, and real. I was captivated by her talk and enamored by her delivery.

In that moment, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone to become a speaker. Soon, I began applying for various conferences and speaking engagements to share my strategies. And guess what!? Opportunities came and I am now a speaker. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to become a TEDx speaker, to make a difference, to share my Big Idea. Seeking out the keynote speaker from the conference, I learned she coaches individuals who want to speak at TED and signed up immediately. Applying to more than a dozen TEDx events, the curator from TEDx Ocala in Florida called one day to let me know that I will be speaking at their event in November 2021! I was ecstatic and shocked at the same time.

In less than two years, the commitment I made to myself at the conference has come to fruition. I have learned not to limit myself to what I believe I can do but to challenge myself to do things I never dreamed of before. If this can happen for me, your dreams can become a reality, too.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Over my career, I have held leadership roles in various community organizations who were seeking a positive, persistent, and passionate person. These three characteristics have been pillars to my success and often the reason I have been asked to serve.

A school board member approached me one day wanting me to sit on the school district’s Calendar Committee. I didn’t even know there was one, but I happily agreed and then began doing research asking principals, teachers, and even students what they would like to change in the school’s calendar. Receiving many suggestions, I settled on one that would impact everyone…Early Release Days where students are released 1.5 hours earlier each month so faculty and staff can create their lesson plans, attend continuing education seminars, or the like.

The day of the first meeting, the leadership from the district sat at the front of the room and the guests sat in the audience. For 3 hours there was a detailed discussion about the calendar. I listened intently and towards the end, I raised my hand asking about the process of these Early Release Days and the merits of them. Politely, I argued that many parents are late picking up their child because they had forgotten about Early Release Day, teachers found the shortened day unproductive because it was not enough time, and that students were losing valuable instructional time especially during final exams. The district and teachers’ union representative counterargued their rationale for the policies in place. But I was positive, persistent, and passionate about sharing my views with the school district personnel and hoped that I had been effective in my communication.

The next day, I emailed the chair of the committee and thanked him for allowing me to have a voice. Within minutes, he replied thanking me for attending, shedding light in a positive and passionate manner and that the district would be changing its policy to be more student-focused beginning the following school year.

Of all the work I’ve done over the years, this is one that I’m most proud of because it directly affects the quality instructional time for our children.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The biggest project this year has been the launch of my debut book, Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond where I discuss the importance of self-care, volunteering at schools, the pros and cons of social media, to name a few. Each chapter ends with an anecdote, Punam’s Perspective, where I share my own personal journey pertaining to the chapter’s topic.

Coming in 2022, I will be expanding my speaking engagements to corporations looking to guide their employees with work/life/school balance and school districts who are seeking broader, more impactful parent involvement. Additionally, I will be creating a course series to help parents understand the power of their voice in their child’s education. The goal is to help parents understand that our challenges are normal, provide strategies for overcoming them, and giving ourselves some grace if we are not ‘successful’.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority about how to help children succeed in school?

When that event happened to me in second grade, I decided to pursue Psychology and Education in college. Teaching children with special needs taught me that every child deserves a support system that is comprehensive and focused on the child’s needs.

In one particular Individualized Education Plan meeting (a meeting where the educational team, including parents and guardians gather to determine the student’s progress and goals for the following year), I noticed the parent was sitting there excluded from the conversation. After a half hour, I turned and asked her what she desired for her child. What she needed for him was the opposite of what we were proposing.

That moment was an epiphany for me. This was my path…to help parents find their voice, to encourage them to speak on behalf of what’s best for their child, and to build relationships with the school.

As a teacher, volunteer, and advocate who has worked with schools and school district for over 30 years, I understand how schools work, what they need, and how to help them achieve their goals, which, consequently, leads to higher student achievement. I continue to share my work with parents, schools, and corporations.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?

Pre-pandemic, schools were moving at lightning speed to ensure the curriculum was being taught in a timely manner and that student high-stakes (such as standardized tests) scores were strong and commensurate with their knowledge while students felt the burden of these stressors.

Once the pandemic hit and schools went virtual, students and teachers were pivoting to maximize learning in a remote environment. And a year later, they are mostly back in schools trying to navigate in-person learning again. This has added an extra layer of challenge for students. Not only are they being tasked with their regular academic curriculum, but their mental health is also being challenged as they maneuver the back and forth of instructional learning and socialization.

This is the single most difficult aspect of learning in school right now…the unknown. It is my hope that in a few months, there will be a return to a normal classroom environment so students can focus on their education with the same fervor as before.

Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?

When I was a student in school many moons ago, there were more hands-on and group activities and less seatwork or paperwork. Our learning was more creative and experiential. Unfortunately, now, as school standards increase each year, the ultimate responsibility falls on teachers and students. Teachers are asked to perform Herculean tasks daily which creates an overwhelming situation for them and their students. Much of the student’s learning is rote memorization. Yet, this environment is not best for all students to learn. The classroom should be a place that is fun, relaxing, and engaging for students to thrive and excel.

Schools need to understand this and provide resources and flexibility so teachers can teach concepts in the best method for maximize student comprehension. Students who feel seen and understood respond positively and will work hard to be successful academically. In my classroom of severely emotionally disturbed students with various learning abilities, I catered lessons to each student while ensuring it was engaging for them to want to learn. While it is not possible to meet individual needs in a large classroom, teachers can rotate the style of teaching to accommodate the students’ needs ensuring that students are receiving concepts in a variety of methods.

At home, parents should share their expectations of their children, have open dialogue about a variety of topics, and look for signs of difficulty or trauma. In our home of four children, conversations occurred at the dinner table. Our children knew it was their safe haven to share anything and everything that was on their minds. This gave them a chance to decompress emotionally but also allowed my husband and I to assess if there was something of concern we needed to address further.

Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?” Please share a story or example for each.

Parents have an incredible responsibility to ensure their children live up to their potential. And while each person’s potential looks different, these are strategies all parents can implement while raising their children.

  1. Children Need to Know Your Expectations

Children look for parents to mirror or determine their behavior so your expectations should be clear. Being a role model, showing them what you’d like them to emulate, and then vocalizing the same, let’s them know what you expectations are of them in school, whatever that may look like. Their ‘job’ is learning, and they should know that you expect them to do their best. A clear and consistent message ensures children understand what they need to do, and this clarity keeps confusion and unknowns at bay. If your child is expected to put 100% effort in the classwork (regardless of the grade), help the teacher afterschool, or be responsible for emailing their teacher with questions or concerns, then you must not waiver. This also teaches them to respect rules and authority not only in school but in life, too.

2. Speak with Your Child

Often, children are often left out of the conversation of their educational planning. They are seen as a third-party participant when, in fact, they are a participant! Understanding their challenges, listening to them without judgement, and asking them what they need is a powerful way to get a full picture of their strengths and challenges. They also are more likely to talk ‘with’ you than ‘at’ you. Many families can accomplish this by taking advantage of those times when everyone is catching their breath like in the car or at the dinner table. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask probing questions where children can share the happenings in their lives. Many life skills are learned through this type of conversation such as effective communication, empathy, compassion, problem-solving, and advocating for oneself.

3. Communicating and Building Relationships

Communicating and building relationships with the teacher to better understand the challenges your child faces is necessary to create a cohesive support team. This team is reassuring for your child and allows you, the parent, to work with the teacher to develop a plan to fill in any gaps.

When we think about building relationships with the schools, often we think, “I don’t have time”, or “It won’t change anything, so why bother.” Communication with schools does not have to be an intense conversation or exchange each time. Teachers are most appreciative of being forewarned of an anomaly in a child’s behavior so they can be prepared. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an email or a text to update teachers on the child’s demeanor. Simple communication helps the teacher understand why the child is being quiet, belligerent, or defiant and offer them some compassion and latitude. The few minutes taken out of your day can change the outlook and self-esteem of your child.

4. Support Your Child in Public

Although it is not always easy, it is imperative that your children feel supported to the outside world. Those ‘tough’ talks should happen in the privacy of your home. Belittling children in public only diminishes their self-confidence and gives others permission to treat your child the same way. I have seen parents at sporting events yell and berate their child for missing a shot or not being aggressive enough. And they continue screaming at their child when the game is over, on the way to the car, and probably even when they are home. This only deteriorates a child’s self-esteem, makes them feel unworthy, and they can begin to internalize this feeling.

Role reversal is an effective way to understand how your child feels in this situation. Would you like to be spoken to in this manner in front of your peers? Likely not.

So, when the teacher calls you to discuss a challenge your child is facing, the best response can be, “I see. Let me get back to you once I speak to them because there is likely an explanation that needs to be addressed.” You have given your child the benefit of the doubt in public and can deal with the situation in private.

5. ‘Safe’ Fails

Parents are the protectors of their child keeping them safe, ensuring success, and instilling life skills. Allowing children to ‘fail’ in the safe environment of their support group helps them develop coping mechanisms and strategies for life beyond the classroom. Children who have overcome obstacles are often more capable of problem-solving and more confident. Safe fails are the best teaching lessons for real life. Not doing well on an assignment, quiz, test, or project may not be the end of the world but it may be a wake up call for them to work harder the next time if they want a better grade. These ‘fails’ teach children how to overcome challenges, reassess their approach, and try new methods to help them succeed. By allowing these scenarios to play out at school and home, their safety net, children know that they will be supported, have opportunities to ask questions, learn, and implement strategies that will prove successful in the future.

As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?

Teachers are passionate about their profession, making an impact on our future leaders, and providing the necessary resources and support for their students to succeed. They shoulder the awesome responsibility of shaping thousands of lives. And they are continuously asked to wear more and more hats. Teachers now are not only teaching, but parenting, disciplining, mentoring, and teaching an increasingly demanding curriculum.

To maintain this level of commitment from teachers and to attract the most talented professionals, we need to begin paying teachers a salary that is commensurate with their job description. We also need to value the work they do, respect their expertise, and give them the freedom to teach in a manner that is in the best interest of the child and not to a ‘one size fits all’ model. Teachers are molding our future workforce and leaders of the world. Once we deem and reward them as such, education will be a highly competitive field, attract many more talented educators, and the level of education our children receive will increase.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

There are so many people who inspire me and are change agents for a better future. Their compassion and empathy motivate me to work harder to be inclusive. I would be honored to have breakfast or lunch with Anderson Cooper. As a mother of a young Indian American gay man, I want him to see Anderson as a role model and be proud of the man he is, follow his dreams, and continue to make the world a better, more homogeneous place.

In Anderson, I see someone who wants to leave a mark on society. His humility and desire to highlight people who are transforming their communities resonates deeply with the way I view the world. He listens to his guests, asks intriguing, thought-provoking questions, and isn’t afraid to ‘get his hands dirty.’ Anderson’s quick wit and humor also makes him so personable and relatable.

I’m in awe of this love for his son and how he and his ex are co-parenting. They are the epitome of how to put a child’s needs in ahead of their own. Meeting him, I know it would be inspiring, honest, and transformational.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about my passion and work at and follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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