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One of my highest priorities at the beginning of each school year involves establishing an expectation level in my classroom so that my new students understand the level of neatness, quality, and effort they will need to produce in order to be successful learners. Once these expectations are established, it is important for me to hold the kids accountable, provide support and encouragement, and keep the bar consistently high.
I believe that parents have the same opportunity at home with their children. The beginning of a new school year is, by far, the best time to establish an expectation level with regard to the neatness and quality of homework and school work, effort, and attitude. Establishing a culture of high expectations is especially important for children who have yet to have positive, academically successful experiences in school.
The first step that I recommend is to convey the message that this year can be different. If children are able to identify a handful of meaningful goals and willing to work with enthusiasm, determination, and purpose on a daily basis, the sky is the limit. Once you and your child have set these goals, consistently revisiting these ideas and holding kids accountable for their actions will gradually lead to significant improvement.
When you notice your kids working hard, demonstrating dedication, and producing higher quality work, recognize this effort. Everyone appreciates being recognized for a job well done, and kids are no different. Your kind words will boost self-esteem, increase motivation, and lead to feelings of joy, pride, and satisfaction. Being recognized for their success will make kids want to taste more success, and they will become more invested in this endeavor. A virtuous cycle begins.
On the other hand, if your children are falling back into old habits, settling for less than their best effort, and producing work that is below par, relish these moments as the valuable learning opportunities that they are. Instead of becoming angry in these situations, it is critical to communicate the following message: â€œThis piece of work does not represent your best effort. I know you can do better, and I believe in you. If you are willing to put in some more time and effort to make this piece of work the best it can be, you will learn a lot more and you will feel proud of yourself.â€
An example of this situation occurred in my classroom a few weeks ago after we took a quiz on twelve geography terms I had asked the kids to study at home. While most students knew all 12 words, one child scored four out of twelve. When the other children were working quietly on a different activity, I called him up to the front of the room and asked if he studied at home the last two nights. He told me that had practiced the words a little bit. My response to him was that he was very bright and could have gotten a higher score if he had worked harder. I emphasized to him that he shouldnâ€™t have stopped practicing at home until he was sure he knew all twelve terms. I wanted him to expect more from himself and develop a higher personal standard of quality.
It is wonderful when parents and teachers have high expectations for children, but I have learned that lasting, genuine progress will occur only when children expect more from themselves and have high personal expectations. Communicating that idea was the goal of my conversation with my student. The two of us could do nothing to change the results of that first quiz. But by holding him accountable, expressing my unconditional belief in him, and encouraging him to put forth greater, I can help him do better in the future.