I often say that educating children is a partnership between school and home. Both have important roles and when they work in tandem, student achievement is maximized. But what does that mean? Let's unpack it.
Schools are not just academic endeavors; they are social and emotional. There, young people develop the skills, attitudes, and habits that they need to become talented, resilient, and disciplined.
Good schools assist students in developing these attributes through practice, exposure to new activities (music, drama, public speaking, athletics, etc.), and challenge. Only through challenge and subsequent achievement can young people develop confidence, an essential character trait for success. Confidence begets courage, and most things worth doing require some level of courage. It is difficult—maybe impossible—to effect real change without a fair measure of courage.
The process of building confidence in young people, however, is not built on unearned praise and effortless celebration. In his 2009 book on motivation, Drive, Daniel Pink explains the research that illustrates why that kind of motivation can be counterintuitive. He claims that when we provide praise for achievement, students learn to work only to the point of earning praise, but not beyond.
Experiments on this topic suggest that extrinsic rewards can encourage short cuts and crush creativity. In fact, one of the more counterproductive things parents (and educators) can do is repeatedly tell their children how smart they are. This leads children to believe that intelligence is their most important trait; but we know that intelligence alone does not correlate to a successful, happy life. Instead, we should praise effort, ethical behavior, and kindness. Malcom Gladwell's suggestion of 10, 000 hours (Outliers, 2008) to develop expertise is really a euphemism for suggesting that mastery only occurs when the time is put in.
As parents we instinctively want to minimize discomfort for our children. We need to take care that this does not take the form of minimizing challenge or over-assisting. While intuitively, this would seem to improve a young person's confidence and motivation (and it can), more frequently it becomes a crutch, convincing children that they always require help.
In her now-famous book, Grit (2016), Angela Duckworth claims that not talent but "grit," a special blend of passion and persistence, is the secret to outstanding achievement. Although her research has been challenged, it is hard to disagree with the notion that hard work begets higher levels of success, all other things being equal.
How do we inspire perseverance? That is a question with many answers. One of those answers lies in not making things too easy for children. Our partnership in education relies on the school and the parent(s) agreeing on the basic elements of creating school-ready, persistent, growth-minded students. To help schools to do their best work, parent(s) can make sure their well-rested children are delivered to school on time, stomachs filled with a nutritious breakfast.
At TASIS, we also ask parents of our younger students to make time to read with their children. This means reading to and being read to by your children. Reading aloud has many benefits (see my next blog) for young people, and time spent with children in the evenings reaps additional rewards.
We know that as parents, your children are incredibly important to you. We want them to be successful and happy just like you do. Teachers work best when parents help them work with prepared and ready learners. This is the partnership of education. The saying "It takes a village to raise a child" is very much part of our philosophy at TASIS.
We look forward to our future partnership with you.