This is my first year as a full time teacher, after working for many years in education as a part-time teacher, researcher, and coach with Challenge Success. Throughout the year I’ve seen the complexities and nuances of how student stress works up close. Stress doesn’t just come from one place. It’s not only teachers assigning too much homework, or a hectic school schedule, or one too many extracurricular activities. It’s deeper than any one of those things. It’s cultural, and it’s something we not only feel, but also go in search of.
Everyone wants to be successful in high school. Success comes in a variety of ways: academic success, social success, financial success (except babysitting hasn’t really been cutting it). But the kind of success that I’m describing is not something that comes in the form of a transcript or an Instagram post with this or that person. A couple of weeks ago, as college notifications were rolling out, my friend and I had a long chat and reflected on the end of high school. The conclusion we came to was one that will always stick with me: the people who truly succeed in high school are the ones that can look back and say “Wow, I had a blast doing the things I loved and I would not change a single thing.”
On the wall of the library, a discolored gray slab of concrete with chipped gold paint proclaims our school motto: “Achieve the Honorable.” It glares down upon an expansive collection of books, each awaiting a curious student. It hangs above shining computers, the drab concrete words contrasting sharply with the innovative technology. It lords over students who scramble to fulfill society’s lofty expectations for success, scribbling last-minute homework to the rhythm of “achieve, achieve, achieve.”
While upside down in what must have been her hundredth attempt to stand on her hands for more than a few seconds, our first grader said, “You know, my teacher told me that every time we try to learn something, a new pathway grows in our brain.” How appropriate for a season of growth! As an educator, I could not be happier that the students of Room 114 have now become proponents of what scholar Carol Dweck identifies as a growth mindset.
I was asked to write this blog on “grit.” A concept I mostly endorse and a word that simply annoys me. Of course hard work, persistence and diligence are good character traits. Although educator and author Alfie Kohn certainly has a point when he says that sometimes it’s just as important to know when to quit as when to forge ahead. The annoyance I suspect comes from Silicon Valley’s infatuation with the word as if it had just invented perseverance. But I’ll save this idea for another time because right now I’m writing from Southeast Asia and Palo Alto (or any of its iterations around the country) seems far away. I was asked to speak in Hong Kong, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to compare the legendary anxiety about school performance among Hong Kong parents with our own homegrown anxiety.
From Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Experiments at Stanford University beginning in the 1960’s to a current study from the Graduate School of Education at UCSF, the conclusions have not changed: Impulse control, or the ability to plan ahead and defer gratification, enhances a child’s ability to fulfill long-term goals. Follow-up studies by Mischel and others have shown that children who are able to resist temptation have significantly better social and emotional outcomes throughout adolescence and mid-life. How can you translate the findings of these academic studies into your daily life as a parent? The ideas below can help promote self-discipline and self-control in your child.
In Part One, I discussed the importance of maintaining routines with your preschooler during the holidays. Parents found this general information helpful, but always returned with questions regarding specific situations. The questions listed below are the ones that arose most often every year.
In today’s fast-paced world where we are all busy and easily distracted, nothing is more precious to a young child than your time and undivided attention, especially during the holiday season. If you want to give your child a truly memorable holiday gift, as well as establish some family traditions and take a break from holiday stress yourself, then the gift of time is perfect. This gift is flexible, easily adaptable, and suitable for any age, schedule and budget. The ideas below are just a starting point; take it from here based upon your child’s age and both of your interests.
I remember Black Friday well. My three sons, still bloated from Thanksgiving, would somehow manage to tear themselves from their post-prandial stupor and get up at an hour generally characterized as “are you kidding?” in order to hit the stores and the sales. Black Friday was a morning of great camaraderie as a group of 7 or 8 gangly teenage boys congregated in my kitchen, engaging in their familiar rituals of affection: bumping, hitting, teasing and mocking each other.
Every year at the preschool, just as predictable as the days getting shorter, we heard the same concerns from parents about handling the holiday season. We tried to reduce the anxiety that so many parents felt about the disruption the upcoming holidays would have on a family with young children by offering the following advice around this time of year.
I am a rabid San Francisco Giants fan — not a Johnny come lately, bandwagon kind of fan (though those are ok too!) — so I was gleeful when Travis Ishikawa hit a walk off home run to clinch the National League Championship title in Game 5 last week. I loved the way his team and the crowd responded, as if they knew he would do it all along. But I mostly love his story. So much of what we hear from the world of sports is bad lately — football players punching their fiancees, Olympic athletes headed to jail, and rampant cheating among college athletes. And then there is Travis Ishikawa, a good guy who has worked hard and has finally played the role of hero.
I have been an educator for over 35 years. This past June, 2014, I retired from my position as Principal and Head of School from an institution that I co-founded in 1996. I had been in the enviable position of working with dedicated staff, wonderful children and a committed parent group. Along the way I’ve learned some things! When I first began as a classroom teacher in 1977, I was working with a very different child than the one I saw in 2014.