The Yellow Jacket Buzz

We All Want Successful Children

I think this is certainly one of those age-old topics that nearly every parent has, at one time or another, pondered. Certainly, the secret to raising successful children is not a short or simple one. Additionally, the solution is not the same for every student or every family.

Perhaps at the crux of this discussion is how we define success. For some, success is nothing less than all As in school. For others, success is earning a starting role on whatever athletic team may be in season at that particular time. For me, success is a dynamic moving target that can likely never be truly and accurately defined. Personally, I want to be the absolute best at whatever it is that I’m undertaking -- whether that’s statistics, football, or dominoes. I am fully aware that I’ll never reach that goal. That said, the pursuit is what’s fun for me.

I think we all have a general goal for our children. We want them to grow up to be successful, independent adults; we want them to reach, or even exceed, their potential. Whether consciously or not, we understand that education plays some role in achieving that goal. There, at education, is where the crossroads is for many. What is education, exactly, and what is its purpose?

Author, thinker, and educator Jessica Lahey recently wrote an article for the New York Times on this very topic. Her articled entitled “How to Help Your Child Succeed at School” emphasizes several practical points for parents to help their children be successful.

Value the process over the product

First, she points out that we ought to value the process of learning over the actual product. Children will learn at different rates, and it’s important to accept that. She mentions that we ought to keep a long-term perspective and love the children we have, not the ones we wish we had. Each child is a unique blessing to us.

Realize grades aren't most important

Next, she says we should value goals over grades. I agree. Honestly, grades aren’t always reliable indicators of student success in school or in life. I would contend that work ethic is a much more reliable indicator. I’ve seen geniuses breeze through school, but they fall on their face in the real world because they couldn’t cope. As a teacher, sure, I loved smart kids, but my favorite kids were often the C students who worked their rear ends off and persevered through adversity. Many of them have gone on to be great!

Help them develop good habits

I think kids need a routine, and they need to learn good study habits. Routines help kids understand the

importance of planning and thinking about what will come next. Routines, chores, and studying help children understand that sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. Often, when children are struggling, academically or behaviorally, it’s because they simply don’t have the skills to cope. Convenient or not, this cannot be taught only at
school. Kids must learn how to respond when they don’t get their way or when they’re disappointed. They need to learn that response from parents, grandparents, teachers, principals, and anyone else involved. Lahey’s article supports this.

Keep the lines of communication open

Another key to school success is open, honest, and trustworthy communication between home and school. Having done this for 10 years now, I can honestly say that schools, good ones at least, absolutely want to see all children succeed. Put simply, schools, teachers, and administrators have nothing to gain and everything to lose when students aren’t successful. When students aren’t successful, it makes everyone’s job at the school much more difficult. Therefore, schools do everything they can to ensure success, but the students have to be active and willing participants.

Please check out Lahey’s article. She has some great advice. Here’s one snippet: “Don’t bash or undermine a teacher in front of the kids. Kids hear what you say about their teachers, and it’s essential to preserve the student-teacher relationship at all costs. It can be confusing for kids when parents say negative things about their teachers, just as it’s upsetting when one parent speaks ill of the other during a separation or divorce.”

So, we can’t measure success in school simply by grades. Likewise, we can’t measure success in life simply by income or social status. We must measure success as a totality of accomplishment. For me, accomplishment does not just include academics and athletics. Instead, success should be measured by our contributions to the betterment of society. So, for kids, we want well-rounded, well-adjusted creative problem solvers who are ready to go make the world a better place. Together, we can accomplish this!

Tyler Hansford is in his 2nd year as superintendent of the Union Public School District. Prior to that, he served as principal of Union Middle School.