Achievement: Pause, Consider and Correct Course
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
By Kris Happe
Achievement: Pause, Consider and Correct Course
Every day I help navigate the fluid, ever-shifting balance beam of achievement-success and well-being-health. Drive, desire and respite. Individuality, pragmatism, empathy, and grit.
As adults who have children in our lives, we all seem to struggle with the age-old question of balance. How do we raise kids who are accomplished, successful, empathetic and resilient?
Being a teacher for thirty, a parent for nineteen, and a student for nearly fifty years, my views regarding what is good for kids and for families have, at different times been uncompromising, flexible, primitive and evolved.
I am proud of the evolution of my views. If I were a politician I would constantly be saying, “I know I have changed my views/position. Isn’t it wonderful? Would you like to know why? What I have learned to change my mind?” I do have a few ideas about this balance.
Honestly. It’s NOT a Race.
In schools, we use achievement as a measurement that we are doing our jobs. In many families we use achievement as an indicator that we are on the right track, doing something (anything~) right. In a child’s mind, the achievement may mean they get approval, they are important, they are good, they are worthy.
Frame it up, adults.
Adults frame achievement and the status that comes with it. Last week a student told me she was glad I FINALLY started classes, so her mom would quit bugging her. I am a gifted and talented specialist at an elementary school. Parents are very concerned about their child’s participation status for my classes. Now, keep in mind my classed are not about achievement as they are based on ability in one of three areas (based on the Cognitive Ability Test) and are enrichment based. There are no ‘grades’ per se. They do not travel to middle school with a special flag that claims advanced status.
Young children clearly see that their participation is something mom and or dad think is very important. However, these same children have no real control over how ‘smart’ they are and therefore have no sense of control regarding this label. When they do have control over this label, they are not willing to give it up, no matter what.
In middle school, my daughter was part of a gifted program in a cohort model (intellectually gifted kids clustered in the same class sections for the four core areas-math, English, science and social studies) I finally understood that just because kids are ABLE to work at advanced rates, that is not necessarily what is good for them. By this time, our daughter had already claimed the gifted label for herself and although she had important misconceptions about what that meant, she was not willing to give that label up. When we suggested she keep the ‘gifted’ classes in the subjects she loved, and let the others go- and take ‘regular’ classes instead, she adamantly refused. Apparently, those kids who were enrolled in less than four subject areas were seen as ‘less than’ those students in all four. Try as we might, she would not budge or let go of her label.
This was a clear unintended program consequence. The value and importance of this program via the label was something that was highly valued, even at the expense of the health and well-being of the students... by the students. Let me be clear. It was NOT the program, educators etc. that created this culture, but the kids themselves and by proxy, I strongly suspect the parents-often unintentionally reinforced this value as well.
Balance is your job parents.
Consider the following:
What tells you that your child is stressed?
What questions do you regularly ask your kids daily during the school year?
How do you know your child is struggling with an issue.
How does your family check in on how your child is feeling about things that happen to them daily?
When a child fails, or does badly what do you say?
How was school for you? What type of experience did you have?
Put away all digital devices between dinnertime and bedtime. Kids have a lot of feelings about you choosing the device over them.
When your child fails or does poorly, ask about what they learned. DO NOT focus on the actual grade. If they can’t answer, push for them to find out why they made mistakes and what they will change next time (ie. learning). Don’t take on the persona of an interrogator.
Display a ‘bad’ paper, with mistakes that helped your child grow on the fridge just as proudly as an A+ paper. Add stickers and smiley faces.
Every day do a round of 'Pluses and Minuses.' Each family member (especially the adults) weigh in on what was positive about their day, and what is making them stressed, worried or was just plain bad. You will be shocked as to what is happening in those smaller brains! It is an INSTANT litmus test, like taking a temperature, on your child’s experience- emotionally, academically and perceptually.
Where is the ‘down time’ in your child’s week? As importantly, where is YOUR ‘down time’ in the week? Model it, people. Stress is the number one negative factor that impacts our health and well being.
Say no. Just because you or your kids CAN participate in something, that doesn’t mean that - at that moment, at that time, you should. Think of your time as money. We have a hard time saying, “No.” If everyone was offering you opportunities to give away your money or your kids’ money, you would quickly start to find boundaries. Start saying, “No, not this time. Thanks for the offer though.” Or, “Maybe next time, but just not this time.”
Separate your school experience from your child’s experience. Clearly identify what feelings you have about school that is a direct result of your own experience and see your child’s experience as separate, using your knowledge and experience as an asset to finding solutions that fit your child.
Valuing education and achievement is important, but let’s be open to more variations. Success comes in many configurations and flavors. Just as parenting has no correct formula, let’s consider that a successful educational experience that is the best fit for a child, also lacks a correct and perfect formula or recipe. What is best for THIS kid?
The goal is a happy, healthy family and kids, not stressed, exhausted, disconnected kids and families. Pause, consider and correct course.