Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seven Ideas to Build Perseverance in Students -- Part I

Once again I am going to provide you with an opportunity to read from Tim Elmore and his Growing Leaders blog.  I have written recently about perseverance and grit and how the students that we are working with today lack those traits.  It isn't just our students.  It is something very common among this millennial generation.  I am convinced that it is something that we need to address, but as you read in Elmore's blog, this is not something that schools can do alone.  We have created a dependent generation of young people.  We need to do something about that.

Seven Ideas to Build Perseverance in Students - Part I

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Is It a Bad Thing That Kids Are Really Busy?

There have been a number of movies that show moms in a minivan or SUV picking kids up from school and running them to this lesson and that practice, only to pick them up and rush them off to some other scheduled activity.  Usually those movies focus on the hectic lives of families living in suburbia who want to make certain that they have their children involved in every opportunity possible.  One doesn’t have to live in the suburbs to see this kind of behavior as folks out in the rural areas have schedules and calendars just as full. 
In a previous article I mentioned that I was just as busy in the summer when I was a teenager as the busiest ones today.  My friends were too, and in fact some of them had more going on than I did.  However, I think that there are some differences now.  First of all, the Just Do It generation, a mentality of excess, and “you can have it all” started back in the late 1980’s and 90’s has an impact on our society today, especially among parents of this generation of students, and thus the students themselves.  It is incredible when I look at some of our busiest students and marvel at how they are able to participate in athletics each season, be part of one or both music programs, participate in speech, maybe FFA as well, and then do a very good job in the classroom.  This certainly supports the theory expressed by many that the busy student is the good student!  What I believe is most important is that these kids learn to be very good time managers, and do a heck of a job prioritizing.  Some of them do not handle distraction or interruption too well because they know what they have to get done and this makes it more difficult.  However, I believe learning these skills pay off in the long run because for most, life is busy!
Are there drawbacks to those who want to “have it all”?  I think there are, though before I get into those, I want to state that I believe that high school is the right time to experience this because there are safety nets in place.  It is the same as my profound belief that high school is the best time for students to be allowed to fail and figure out how to pick themselves back up.  It certainly makes more sense while they have a support system in place.  That said, what are the drawbacks?  The first is that I believe it prevents excellence.  It falls in line with that old saying “jack of all trades, master of none.”  To me, it only makes sense that many of our students have spread themselves too thin, and while they may be good at a lot of things, they are not great.  So what’s wrong with that?  Perhaps nothing.  But maybe with more concentrated effort on fewer things, different doors may open for them as they move forward in life.
And while some people may scoff at this next negative, I believe it has merit as I see it in my own household.  Burning the candle at both ends is not healthy.  There is definitive proof that teenagers need to have eight hours of sleep per night to function to their maximum potential.  Very few if any of these ultra-busy students get any where close to that amount of sleep per night, which I would guess isn’t much different than most high school students.  But that said, imagine how much better they could do in their classes or other pursuits if they were as healthy as they could be.  Think sleep is over-rated?  Check out the training regime of Olympic caliber athletes and you will see that sleep is right up their in importance to nutrition.
I don’t think these uber-busy students deal well with stress either.  I mentioned earlier that they tend to be very regimented in order to get everything done that they need to do.  When things do not go well, or when a wrinkle is thrown their way, some of these kids melt down, but because they are so driven, they persevere and fight through it.  While the fight is admirable, we all know that stress has long-term implications.  We also know that that the way some people choose to deal with stress is not healthy at all.  Truth be told, I have seen some of these kids really struggle when they get away from home and do not have the support system of family and school, some falling into self-destructive behaviors, and some really having difficulty dealing with the new found responsibility of independence and freedom from the very managed life they led in high school. 
From my perspective, it comes down to balance.  While some want to have it all, I think that comes with drawbacks, but at the same time, I certainly see tremendous benefits to being involved and keeping busy.  Certainly we have a percentage of students that we would love to see with a stronger connection to school, working harder on their academic pursuits and engaged in our activity program.  It would be a lot better than the choices they are making at this stage of their life.  We have a very high percentage of students involved in our activity programs, and certainly I would love to see some more involved.  But at the same time, I am concerned about the ones who stretch themselves so thin.  Colleges are not telling us that they want to see kids involved, but not stretched so thin that they do not perform as well as they could.  Balance.