The Pursuit of Excellence
Monday, February 7, 2011 ~
The phrase “performing at grade level” is one that you likely have heard from teachers many times over the years. It has become a term that teachers all across the country use to let parents know that their child is advancing according to the expectations of the grade he or she happens to be in. But challenging and encouraging your child to achieve beyond grade level expectations will instill a powerful desire to achieve above average results in everything he or she does. Check out these tips that we developed to help you motivate your child to reach for the academic stars.
Show Your Child That Smart Is Cool
Some children believe that, like oil and water, smart and cool just don’t mix. Students can sometimes be their own worst enemies in this respect. As children get older, the social pressures of “being cool” can detract from the real reason students attend school: to grow and learn. Showing children that being well-educated is, in fact, the coolest thing anyone can be will help them deal with these powerful social pressures. Set the stage for this conversation differently than for others. Take your child out for ice cream or a fun activity with just the two of you. Once you’re settled into a comfortable chat, casually ask your child if he or she ever feels pressure from other students to choose between being smart and being cool. Then ask, “Have you ever let the pressure from peers to be cool affect your school performance?” Be sure to ask this in a conversational and easygoing tone. Reassure your child that he or she isn’t going to be scolded or get in trouble for sharing honestly. If he or she answers, “yes” be sure to respect the answer and then reveal your own childhood experiences of feeling similar pressure. Explain to your child that the most admired and successful people are those who are smart and well-educated. Give them examples of people in history, people in current events or even celebrities who excelled as a result of their commitment to working hard in school. If your child is passionate about video games, share with him or her the varying skills, education and schooling required to become a video game developer. If your child loves fashion, illustrate how much time and energy the president of his or her favorite brand spent in business school to become the person he or she is today. While the conversation might end with quiet thought and contemplation, don’t let it be the last time you discuss this topic. Use your everyday visits to stores to revisit the notion that “hard work pays off.” Upon seeing a new video game released, remind your child of what being smart can lead to. Showing your child the tangibly cool things created by people and brands he or she admires will give him or her a concrete example to hold onto when faced with adversity over being too smart to be cool. Another concrete reminder of this ideal could be a small token, such as a keychain or small item that he or she can carry during school, that represents his or her long-term goal and acts as a reminder that excelling in school is the path to achieving that goal. Tell your child that whenever he or she feels pressure from other students to be cool rather than smart, he or she can pull out this token as a reminder that being smart is being cool. You can also come up with a code word you can use whenever you want to remind your child how cool he or she really is.
Create a Support Team
Becoming an all-star student doesn’t just happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Having a solid support system in place will help your child realize his or her fullest potential in the classroom. If your child is enrolled in an enrichment program after school to help with math or reading, talk with the instructor and share your and your child’s aspirations and what you hope to achieve this year. If your child visits a tutor after school once or twice a week, make sure you’re both on the same page regarding your child’s academic needs. At home, stress the importance of supporting your child in his or her endeavor to become an advanced student. Students who have a strong support system that is invested in their scholastic achievements are much more likely to achieve academic excellence.
Emphasize the Journey, Not Just Results
Goals are important for your child. Goals mark progress and give your young student targets to shoot for. By all means, you should create goals for your child to pursue. However, a common pitfall parents and students encounter is a vision that is too narrow. Focusing too heavily on a goal will overshadow the importance of the journey. It’s important for children to understand that it isn’t just the end result, but also how you get there, that makes some things in life rewarding. Try to celebrate each and every step toward a goal, no matter how small. As your child works toward a goal, surprise him or her every now and then with a small reward. For instance, if your child is working toward advanced math next year or practicing reading every night to improve his or her reading comprehension, give him or her a surprise reward for their hard work. After school one day, pick your child up and, instead of driving home, surprise him or her with a fun excursion to the bowling alley. You can also surprise your child with a hidden note in his or her lunch tote that says how proud you are of him or her. Another variation of this is to mail your child a congratulations card. Pretending to be ignorant to who in fact sent the card right up to the very end when your child realizes that it was you who sent the card will bring an ear-to-ear grin to your child. These small reminders will keep your child motivated to complete his or her goals.
Moving your child from the mindset of “doing just enough” to that of “academic overachiever” requires commitment, creativity and a lot of coaching. Use every day as an opportunity to inspire your child to take charge of his or her education. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. Take that step with your child today and begin the journey toward excellence.