Thursday, November 14, 2013

Room For Improvement

A few nights ago, we had our parent teacher conferences. I actually like the process. For the most part I enjoy meeting your parents and telling them how great you are. I like to see you with your  parents to get a sense of what kinds of relationships you have with each other. Are you nervous, or timid, or funny, or courageous around your parents? I can learn a lot about you by how you act around your parents

I am always left thinking about learning. And school. And grades. And a whole slew of other thoughts I can’t seem to capture at the moment. After the last session, I haven’t been able to get over a certain phrase.
Yes, I know she is doing fine, but there is always room for improvement. Right? What else can she do? How can she do better?
I must have heard these words from the mouths of every parent I met. Irregardless of your grades or your skills. Didn’t matter if they were high pressure parents or easy going ones, they all wanted to know how you could do better. This got me thinking.

You guys, for the most part, work hard. Really hard! I am often in awe that you sit in class all day, do homework, participate in services and activities, and hang-out with your friends. You are engaged with the school material, yo ask about  rubrics and articulate your learning. You reflect, make portfolios, and ask for help. You are simply amazing young people. You do all of this all whilst dealing with hormones, growing up, balancing countless relationships with your friends, teachers and yes parents. You are online and offline and everywhere in between.

So what must it feel like, to work this hard, to do the best you can for twelve years and to constantly be told, no matter how or what you do that there is always room for improvement! It must be devastating. By the end of the night, I was no longer hearing how can my child do better, but I was hearing how can my child be better. I could read it on your faces while you listened to your parents praise your work and talk about how proud they were, only to hear that big but at the end of the conference.  I could see you smile and sit up straight and beam with pride and confidence only to watch you deflate, when after the praise every parent ended with, “But how can she do better? How can she improve?”

Is this what we want? A learning environment where feedback and growth and improvement have trumped simply saying, “Job well done! I am proud of you. Now take a break! Enjoy your learning.” Are we so fixated on our kids “succeeding” and remaining competitive, that we cannot simply let you bask in the glow of your accomplishments without constantly raising the bar? How can you feel successful if every time you do, we tell you to do better?

I would hope that when you are self-motivated and passionate and self-aware of your needs and strengths and weakness, that you can and will push yourself to improve. And if you don’t perhaps you are not ready to commit to your learning.  Constant growth and improvement is not sustainable and should not be the perpetual expectation.

I know how your parents must feel. I get it. I am a parent too. Every time I see my daughter slacking off or not working to her potential, or not achieving some unrealistic expectation of mine, I too want to remind her that she should work harder, slower, smarter. Even when she does well, I too catch myself saying, “How can this be better?” It must be natural to want our kids to be their (the) best. I too want to tell her teacher not to let her lose focus, but I think I could honor her independence more and feed her confidence more, if I were to sometimes just let what she does be enough.

I want to say to her, “I am proud of you honey. I cannot believe how hard you worked and how much you have grown. I am so impressed by how much you have learned. You really seem be aware of what you are doing. I trust you and know that you are doing your best. Take some time to relax and enjoy what you have done and all that you have learned. Thank you for being such a great learner.”
Nothing more! I keep the, “There is always room for improvement,” and the “What could you do better,” to myself this time.

What do you think? How can we find ways to talk you in way that motivates you to want to improve, while honoring the work you have done? How do we move away from this trap of demanding never-ending improvement? What would you like to say to your teachers and parents? Leave a comment.

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