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In my eighteen years as an elementary school teacher, I have learned that the number one key to student success involves setting high standards. Typically, parents and teachers are the ones who establish high expectations for children, and, of course, this act is critically important. By themselves, though, high expectations set by adults will only take us so far. The real progress begins when students make these expectations their own - when they become high personal expectations.
Every year I see students make significant learning gains, and without exception this progress is due to the fact that the kids decided that they wanted to do better in school and made the choice to dedicate themselves to becoming quality students. Once children make â€œThe Choice,â€ a virtuous cycle begins. I describe the steps of this chain reaction below. The diagram that follows conveys these steps visually. Sharing the diagram with kids is a wonderful way to introduce the concept of developing higher personal standards, and the visual can serve as a consistent, long-term reference point that can be used both at home and in the classroom. (Please e-mail me if you'd like to receive a pdf copy of this visual.)
1) After making â€œThe Choice,â€ kids immediately start working harder in school, being more diligent with their homework, and caring more about doing well academically.
2) As a result of this greater care and effort, the kids produce better, higher quality work. This may not happen right away, but it will happen eventually. Samples of this improved work offer the first tangible proof that something special is starting to occur.
3) When students begin producing better work, others will begin to notice. Teachers, parents, and classmates will provide positive feedback. More important, the kids themselves will notice, and they will give themselves positive feedback.
4) Positive feedback will increase childrenâ€™s confidence. Noted educator Theodore Sizer once said that children will maximize their potential when they are motivated and confident. Positive feedback powerfully affects both of motivation and confidence.
5) The virtuous cycle continues as kids, who are now feeling more confident and believing in themselves to a greater degree than ever before, feel a deeper sense of pride and become more enthusiastic about school. Children who reach this stage are doing well, and they know they are doing well. They walk taller, participate more frequently in class discussions, and handle adversity more effectively. They strive to make the most of every learning opportunity, and they believe they can be successful at whatever their teachers put in front of them.
6) This part of the chain reaction marks a crucial step in a childâ€™s transformation. The high expectations established initially by parents and teachers now belong to the students themselves. The kids made the choice to develop higher standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior, and they are the now the principal owners of this choice.
7) At this point the cycle rises to a new level as children try even harder and care even more about doing well in school.
If children have not yet made â€œThe Choice,â€ the best way for parents to encourage this decision is through unconditional love and support and by communicating the following idea: â€œI know you are capable of so much more and that you have greatness inside of you if you are willing to work a little harder and put more time and effort into your school work.â€ When adults consistently communicate high opinions of childrenâ€™s worth, talent, and potential, kids become more likely to believe in and expect more from themselves. Children may not alter their expectations tomorrow or next week, but if they hear this message enough times, ultimately it will sink in.