Defining Self & Success

SuccessAs it stands today, education is geared towards teaching our young students the importance of achieving success. How we define success can make or break our students self-worth. All too often, success is defined according to our culture and in today’s society, success means having money and power so that you can be in control of your own happiness.

My New Definition of Success

As a well-educated and self-proclaimed “definer” of my own success,  I too adhered to society’s definition. The typical Type A student, I found myself always trying to live up to and then exceed my own expectations, attempting to outdo my last triumph and climb the ladder towards the next goal that would reinvigorate my self-worth and value to others. But it seemed the ladder never ended and that if I chose to, I could climb forever.  Only recently, did I begin to question the definition of success I adopted as a child. Through age, experience, and honestly the fact that I was just so tired of my never-ending climb, I  began to realize that my definition of success hinged on control.

And then I realized that control was an illusion.

The fact is I have no control over anyone or anything, except my own behavior, choices and actions. That’s it. After the initial shock wore off, it was oddly reassuring to know that the weight of worrying about having enough money and power so that I could be happy one day had lifted. A new chapter had begun.

I no longer have to wait till I have enough to be happy, I can just be.

Collectively Learning Success Through Praise

Children learn to define success through praise. We were praised for taking our first step, eating our first solid food, and using the potty for the first time. Our basic definition of success revolved around our basic needs. As children grow, the adults in their lives praise them for different things, harder things like getting an A on a test. If you’re praised for getting an A, then achieving an A becomes part of your definition of success. And we, as a culture, unquestionably accept this definition.

But what if we began defining success less collectively and more individually?

At the core of education is understanding how we each learn differently. We’re all good at different things and we all struggle with different challenges. Yet, we are taught to define success in the same way.

The system of education is beginning to catch up with the notion of individualized learning, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and even brain-mapping. Most educators acknowledge the research but many cannot fathom how to teach 32 students in 32 different ways. Classroom practices will have to be redefined to accommodate this new definition of learning too.

Embrace Individualized Education Now

I’m afraid we cannot wait for the system to catch up with the student. It’ll be too late and another generation lost to the definition that an A means you’re worthy. The work of change must be done now.

It’s important that parents and teachers collaborate, looking at the whole child and honoring their strengths while redefining their challenges. How do we do this?  At home, you can begin to praise your child for achieving a B or even a C in that really hard subject. So your child’s strength is with words and not formulas. That’s okay. She will still be successful in her own right. At school, you can begin to praise your shy student for his thoughtful paper on the subject, even though he chose not to raise his hand to participate in the class discussion.

Redefine Your Expectations

I want to be clear: I am not saying to lower your expectations, but, rather, redefine them in accordance with your child’s individual strengths and challenges. Children want to please you; they will rise to the challenges you set for them. It’s our job, as parents and teachers, to make sure those challenges build upon each other in an attainable way.

Do we define a baby’s first fall as failure? No, we define it as learning. Expectation and failure go hand in hand. Some parents and educators shy away from exposing their students to failure at a young age for fear their child will think of themselves as a failure. Did the baby think of herself as a failure when she fell for the first time? Probably not because her parents reassured her that it would be okay. Then her parents helped their child up and she attempted to learn to walk again.

That’s exactly what we as parents and teachers should be doing with our students: redefining success and failure as, simply, learning.

The challenge is really within ourselves because until we can redefine our own successes and failures as learning, we cannot extend the same kindness towards our children. How we treat others is a reflection of how we see ourselves. That’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over again. Thankfully, that’s a lesson I’m ready to learn.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

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We Are The Champions, My Friends

rita-pierson-featureNo matter what school you went to or what zip code you live in, the one thing you desire the most is for someone to believe in you. If you don’t have that, your self-worth takes a nose dive regardless of race, gender, or class.

It Doesn’t Matter How Much or Little Our Students Have, They All Need a Champion

This is what I see firsthand. I work with students who have a lot and students who have a little.  I work with those who have mild/moderate/severe disabilities, kids who exhibit a propensity for a Learning Difference or Behavior Challenge and those who go undiagnosed but struggle due to an outside-of-school issue, like their parents’ divorce or internal anxiety. But the common theme that spans all of my students’ stories, is the human need for a champion.

A +2 and a Smiley Face

A non-verbal student is no different from a gifted student when it comes to their need for a cheerleader in their corner. Each child– each person– deserves to have that someone who can see their potential despite what appears as a failure. The late Dr. Rita Pierson, a long-time teacher who gave an amazing Ted Talk on education, said that she once gave a student an F but instead of circling a -18/20 on the paper, she instead chose to put a smiley face on the failed test with a +2/20. Why? Because it changes the game by changing the perspective of the student and the teacher.

Does Objective Success Exist?

As an educator myself, I struggle with whether objective success actually exists. Questions like Should we be measuring our students by an objective standard when they are all different?  and What really is the definition of success?  make me think about what we’re all really working towards. It seems that when we’re kids our goal is to be like everyone else, but when we become adults we realize our goal should now be to find our own success through individual achievement.

I choose to champion the path of individual achievement and measure success by whether a student has met their individual goals in hopes that building upon this foundation will bring about his or her own success. Because to be like everyone else should not be the ultimate goal. Instead, to be our best selves is the life lesson we should be teaching our students.

Dr. Rita Pierson’s Powerful, Funny and True Ted Talk

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

How Do You Measure Trust?

trust-3Do you remember doing the Trust Fall? It’s a common practice in scouts and business get-to-know-each-other retreats to develop a sense of trust and community within the group dynamic. For those of you who haven’t yet participated in this exercise you literally stand on a platform with your hands clasped in front of you while your team lines up behind you, arms outstretched in a zipper-like fashion. Then you turn around and fall backwards into the group. Is it scary? Yep! Does it foster trust? Yep!

Struggling Students Feel Like They’ve Fallen & No One was There to Catch Them

A Trust Fall is a lot like what our kiddos feel when we ask them to trust the adults in their lives. Especially if a child has been “burned” before, they are less apt to blindly trust you until you (as the parent, educator, or therapist) prove that you’re not going anywhere and you’re not giving up on them.

By the time students come to me for help, they’ve already suffered an enormous blow to their self-esteem: poor grades, arguments with parents, numerous trips to the principal’s office, and numerous meetings with the school — all these events culminate into one struggling student who feels that they’re not good enough and one struggling family who feels helpless.

Show Your Kiddo You Believe in Them By Earning Their Trust

My job is to first make a connection with the child in need and gain their trust. This is not something that can be measured. But therapists and educators alike, often feel the pressure to adhere only to the quantifiable, written goals and so the act of building a foundation of trust gets put to the wayside in favor of checking the box.

We’ve got it backwards, folks. We cannot work on measurable goals until a solid foundation of trust is built. Why? Your kiddo does not trust you yet and will not work towards the goals and the set standards until he does trust you.

If a Child Trusts You, They Will Work Hard to Achieve The Goals You Set

Like any good relationship, authentic connections stem from taking the time to get to know one another. This is also true in the student-teacher, client-therapist, and child-parent relationships. When we fully trust someone, we want to work hard for them because we believe that they know what’s best for us. Our kiddos want to move forward successfully and will do so as long as they know we’ve got their back.

To measure an immeasurable, like trust, is to attempt to quantify things like love and beauty. We can’t. It just doesn’t work like that. So take that extra session, that extra hour, and that extra week and spend the time to earn your kiddo’s trust. It creates a foundation that leads to a real connection and a real attempt by your child to meet those challenges.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.