What Makes a Great Student?
The pressure to become a high achieving student is real. Academic pressure is not only felt by the students who desire to go to a top college - students who feel they don’t measure up are often wondering why they should bother to study. What can a teenager who struggles in school do when everyone around them is setting an impossible measure of excellence? This pressure can lead students to become unmotivated because they fear that they will never reach the level of success of their peers.
What happens to students who don’t try to succeed?
School is like a washer and dryer. It’s a strange comparison - but stick with me. We throw students into the wash with the same soap, the same settings. The frustration occurs when students enter the dryer. Most students come out dry and wrinkle free - but then there is that one sock that is still damp. When I was in middle school and high school, I was always that one stubborn sock that remained wet. What would you do in that situation? Some people would put the sock through the cycle again with another load of clothes and become irritated when the sock stays damp. Others throw the sock away in irritation; who has time to do the same cycle all over again on one single sock?
Yup, I was the sock that didn’t get how the school process worked.I thought there was something wrong with me - but now I wonder if the cycle was broken.
Why the Cycle doesn’t work for Struggling Students
I trained to become a school counselor and turned to academic coaching because working with struggling students is my passion. They may struggle because of learning differences, ADHD giftedness, perfectionism or boredom. Whatever the cause of the struggle, many of my coaching students feel unease, defeat, and a lack of confidence. I work with amazing teenagers. A short conversation shows that as humans- they have much to offer the world. Why doesn’t school get it?
The typical routine at school is: Listen, write, read, retain knowledge, do homework, take a test and repeat. Why should we expect students to change their view of school, when everyday they are asked to approach school in the same way? Has this routine worked for struggling students so far? If it hasn’t, how do we break them out of this cycle?
I tell my students to stop looking at the large picture. If you are a struggling 7th grade student, what good will it do to look five years into the future? College is far away and a career is even further down the path. Instead, I ask them for their definition of a strong student. Typically, they respond by saying they need to be smarter, they need to be a teacher’s pet, they need more time in the day, or they need a better teacher. Notice these are all things that neither I, the child, nor a parent can control. I stop them, and I ask if they want a much easier answer. I then pull out the answer to all their problems. A pencil.
What Does a Good Education Start With?
Why a pencil? When a student is asked what it takes to be a good student they immediately think of things outside of their control. They don’t believe they can ever be a good student. I work with the student to break down those ideas.
What if the smallest thing a person needs to be a good student is a pencil? You show up everyday ready to write something down. The next question is, what else does a good student need? Now that the student gets the idea, they typically suggest things like a notebook, planner, paper, computer etc. As their Academic Coach, we look at what they are bringing to class right now. Do they have pencils, pens and a well-organized notebook? Usually the answer is, “no.”
We then dig in a work on our plan. For one week, can they be a good student by bringing a pencil and notebook to every class?
This sounds simple, but it gives the student hope that there is a chance to change.
I had one teacher pull me aside in the hallway at a middle school I interned at and say, “I don’t know what you told this student, but keep doing it.” The truth was, I didn’t tell my student to do anything; we shifted his perspective.
How to Change the Mindset of a Struggling Student
if your child is struggling at school, or if you are a teacher that works with struggling students- get curious! If we talk to students to gain their perspective of what it is to be a good student, we may find the source of their frustration. What if there lack of effort is caused by the belief that excellence is impossible? Some students believe that a good student is one who earns straight A’s. If you are a student who struggles and are in the current cycle of sit, listen, test repeat- would you feel you could ever achieve straight A’s? If not, what would be the point of trying?
Take your child from the impossible to the possible by creating the smallest, most achievable goal. Let them set the goal for themselves and feel success on their terms.
Remind them that they are already good enough without using school as a measurement for success. Help them identify the areas they excel in and celebrate the small victories.
What if we encouraged our children to thrive in school on their terms? Instead of shooting for this “perfect imagine,” what if we worked on improvement? My philosophy as an academic coach, is that we work toward change each day. Working towards change is far better than standing still. Join the conversation about struggling students and education by listening to my podcast at http://www.schoolcounselorgonerogue.com
That is why, I believe the start to breaking the cycle, is starting with something as simple as a pencil.
Stay on point,
MA Counselor Ed, ACC
Team Pasch Academic Coaching -
Academic Coaching in Orlando, FL and Virtual Coaching across the United States.