As we approach the new school year, I often see advice to parents about how to help their children become successful in the classroom. The advice is generally very good, but it never quite says what I wish it would.
My three children run the spectrum of academically advanced, on pace, and learning disabled. As a parent and an educator of twelve years, I recognize the importance of celebrating students for more than test scores and teaching them the keys to true success.
When my kids were in 4th, 3rd, and 1st grades, I began to tell them I only wanted two things from them that school year: work hard and listen well. Now that they are entering the 7th, 6th, and 4th grades, I have decided they have the first two down, and we need to remind them to focus on caring for people, so we have added, “be nice,” to our list of rules for success.
Even more recently, my husband decided that “don’t be an idiot” should also find its way into the list. I’m pretty sure that rule is related to our son entering his teenage years this fall. It hasn’t quite become one of our official rules for success, but it is still pretty important.
#1 Work Hard:
Dear concerned and loving parents, please, please, PLEASE stop praising your children for doing nothing. I won’t bore you with the research. Just trust me, kids need to be praised for working hard, not for simply existing. Children who are praised for putting forth a great effort are more motivated to try things that might be difficult than kids who are praised for their innate abilities. It is called a growth mindset.
It is so damaging to keep praising our kids for being smart and blaming others (especially, the teachers and the tests) for our students’ failures. This leads to students (and some day adults) that are afraid to try anything that might be hard, which, in turn, leads to a generation of individuals that lack the courage and work ethic needed to grow.
My favorite type of student to teach is the student that will work hard. Natural intelligence, although a wonderful gift, doesn’t impress me. Hard work does. Hard workers grow and improve.
Practice at home:
Praise your children for working hard as they practice their instruments, do their homework, or participate in sports.
Do not applaud sub par efforts.
Most importantly, acknowledge that your child is not perfect, and that is okay. Let them own their mistakes, and support them while they put in the work to correct those mistakes.
#2 Listen Well:
Teaching your child to listen to and follow the instructions given will help your child go up a letter grade immediately. I cannot tell you how many students lose points simply because they do not listen well.
Listening well means hearing information, processing the information, and interacting with the information. This is a skill that requires paying attention even when it isn’t fun. Additionally, I have observed that students who choose to listen well feel entertained and enjoy their time in the classroom more than those who do not.
Students that listen well are able to perform better because they have a firm grasp on the content of the lesson and the instructions on how to demonstrate their understanding.
Many students understand the content, but they fail to demonstrate it because they have not listened to what was required of them and left out major portions of the assignment given. I promise you, the teacher has repeated the instructions and the content at least fifteen times in at least seven different ways.
This does not mean every child who listens well will receive an A. There are factors that cause learning to be more difficult for some than it is for others. However, those who listen well will find success. Sometimes success is moving from a D to a C.
Practice at home:
Talk to your kids. Talk to them about things they are interested in, and expect them to also talk about things you are interested in. The world does not revolve around only their interests. Teach them to tune in and interact.
Also, give them instructions, and hold them accountable to follow through. If you ask them to wash the table and put the washcloth in the sink when finished, make sure they do both steps. Do not belittle them when they miss a step, but make sure they go back and complete the step.
#3 Be Nice:
This one is the real secret most teachers won’t openly disclose. Beyond the fact that being nice is just the right thing to do, being nice matters in student success. A student that is disrespectful and rude to the teacher and the other students will not receive the same benefits as a kind student.
Let me give you an example. Student A has been unkind to the teacher and his classmates consistently. Student B has always been respectful and nice to everyone. Both students have excellent grades. When they want letters of recommendation for enrichment activities or scholarship and college applications, student A might not be able to find teachers willing to put in the time and effort to write the recommendation. If a teacher agrees to write the letter, can you guess whose recommendation will be better?
Yeah, I think you get the point.
Practice at home:
Lead by example. Teach your child that treating others with respect is a priority. This begins with how you treat them, but it is accentuated by how you speak to and about those in authority over you and those who you have authority over.
Another way to teach a child to be nice is to talk to them about other’s views and experiences in a way that helps them to see the commonality of the human experience. Empathy is a powerful teaching tool.
Put them all together:
The key to success is not in focusing on these three rules of success individually, but combining them. They are a package deal.
Students can listen well and act nicely and still fail if they lack the work ethic to get things done. There are no points awarded for what you know if you don’t demonstrate it.
If a student does not listen well, she might work hard at the wrong things.
If a child is not nice, she will forfeit her ability to participate in other opportunities.
Most of your children’s teachers care just as much as you do (or more) about your children succeeding academically. We work our butts off to make success obtainable for every student, regardless of natural intelligences or disabilities.
I promise you, if your child is in my classroom, I will:
-work hard to help him succeed.
-listen well when he speaks so I can hear what help he needs.
-(most importantly)be nice to him.
If we all work together, this year is going to be a success!