Effort Versus Result
With report cards comes a whole host of anxiety. For both parents and kids. I’ve seen parents in my office wield their children’s grades as though they are daring me to not be impressed: “She got all A’s”, “He has the highest grade in his class”, “The teacher took his diagram and put it on the overhead because it was the best one she’d seen”. Then the kids start: “My goal is to get a perfect 100% in calculus”, “I spent all weekend at the library working on this paper that’s worth 2% of my overall final grade”, “If I don’t start thinking about my grades now, I might not get in to my university of choice three years from now”.
Report cards are designed to measure success. They aren’t the final word in success, though, as any teacher will tell you. The point is not to achieve a perfect grade, the point is to learn, to develop, to grow. But what do we teach kids when we focus so much on the number?
We know that attaining perfection is an impossibility. And yet it’s a trap we fall into when we encourage and reward higher and higher marks. We don’t really believe that perfection is the only acceptable result, but our kids might hear that message by accident. And that can carry over to the kids, too, when they start putting such enormous pressure on themselves to do well at school. The pressure and anxiety kids feel, teenagers particularly, can be needlessly high. We all want what’s best for our kids, but at what cost? Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what they’re really learning.
In our competitive society, this pressure to succeed can easily overshadow the desire to learn. But we don’t want kids to think that they haven’t measured up – in their own minds or in ours – if their grades don’t reach a certain benchmark. We want them to feel good about what they’ve accomplished, even if it isn’t an A+.
So this report card season, I’d like to propose a move away from the number on the report and move toward personal accountability in our kids by having them assess their own success or failure based on their efforts. Isn’t a C a good mark if it represents a full-court press by the student? It’s very discouraging to try to live up to perfection, but when we as parents reward the effort more than the result, it opens up the door for our kids to relax and focus on giving their best without any pressure to meet a specific standard.
Ask your kids how they feel they did on their reports. What did they learn about themselves or their study habits? What might they do differently next time? These are the questions that lead to greater learning and self-awareness. And that’s the true measure of success.