Every invested parent has asked their child what they have done at school, in a day, or what they’ve learned. I’m going to guess that almost these same parents have received muted responses, leaving them feeling the challenge of connecting meaningfully with their children school, frustrated at not knowing how best to be supportive. My contention is that parents might have greater satisfaction if they focus not just on what their child is learning, but on how.
Parents who are accomplished professionals likely possess valuable skills in organization and personal development that they can pass on to their children. Unfortunately, however, it is all too easy to miss two important points: first, skills of organization, management and growth usually develop through experience and making mistakes. Second, these skills are not inherent, especially for teenagers. An unfortunate result of this is that parents who are feeling frustrated and under-confident in how to support their children are often parents who are missing an enormous opportunity to pass on what they’ve learned.
Let's take the skill of prioritization as an example. If you've been entrusted with responsibilities in your career, it's likely because you can sort through tasks, distinguish between what's important and urgent, and either tackle them or delegate them. As teachers, almost daily we see students in our classrooms at the British International School of Boston (BISB), who do exactly the opposite of this. In my experience, only a very few students plan their time effectively, or even at all. Few students have a sense of the complete list of tasks before them, with deadlines, and a sense of the relative importance of each. All too often students will select as their first task something of low importance and low urgency, principally because it is the task with which they feel most comfortable. If students can be helped to take a different and more effective approach to time management, they will almost certainly be more academically successful, they will experience how an organized approach is beneficial for both success and well-being, and they will embed skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives – skills which many people don’t learn until their twenties and thirties.
Similarly, thoughtful reflection is vital for both academic and professional achievement. In the working world, we are constantly asked to reflect on our actions, learn from them, and move forward. Some studies even suggest that the ability to reflect is strongly correlated with academic success. However, despite my frequent conversations with students about reflecting on their work, I rarely see them set effective and meaningful goals for themselves. I can't blame them; I didn't know how to purposefully reflect on my work as a teenager either, I only developed this skill reluctantly as a professional. What I lacked was someone in my life during my teenage years to guide me through it. If I could go back in time and share with my teenage self what I know now about adopting a growth mindset, I'm confident I could have avoided many setbacks.
This is where
come in. You don’t need to work in academia to be able to think about how you would approach a task. If you are reading this as a parent of an overwhelmed student, try getting a sense of what, when, and how much is on your child’s to-do list. Think about how you would navigate your way through the ask your child how they are planning to approach it. There can often be an alarming difference in approach. With sensitivity and compassion, them to see what they’re missing, and help them navigate an effective path through the work before them. In other words, help them avoid the mistakes that most students only realize they’re making later in life.
School is for learning, but if we want our students to achieve lifelong success then we need them not only to learn, but to learn how to learn. If you are a parent who has already been on that learning journey, I encourage you to try applying what you’ve found along the way to the situation your child finds themselves in. I believe that these kinds of conversations will not only help the students in their studies now but will set them up to progress at a greater rate in future, giving them a head start on those skills which can often take all too long to develop.