Friday, January 12, 2018

When We Need to Quit Dreaming and Wake Up to Reality!

A while back I had a conversation with a student and parent and was criticized afterward for a statement that I made.  I guess I was too blunt.  However, I made a personal promise to myself a number of years ago that I was not simply going to say what people wanted to hear when it came to their child.  I think that is very dishonest and it does not do anything to move the child forward.  There comes a time when it is necessary to face reality and the truth, regardless of how harsh or brutal it may be.  It is great to have dreams, but there comes a time when you have to wake up!  

I am going to change the details of this meeting to protect the identify of the student and the family.  However, before I move on to the story, I want to make it clear that I am a goal-oriented person and I still have dreams.  In fact, I dare say that anyone that has experienced success in their life has set goals and worked to achieve them, and many times these goals are based on a dream that someone has.  There is no doubt that the great dreamers have made a positive impact on our world, and frankly, without them I have a belief that our lives would not be so rich.  That said, I do not want anyone to say that I don’t buy into people having dreams, nor do I want it said that I am a dream crusher because I do truly believe that if there is something that a person wants out of life they should go for it!

Back to the story.  It is not uncommon when a meeting is held with a student and her parents to talk about goals and what they want to do when they graduate from high school.  At the current time there is almost an obsession with making sure that teenagers can define what their career choice is as soon as possible so that they have direction in life (though that’s a topic of another article).  Depending on the type of meeting that is being held, this is often part of a goal setting process, or in other instances, a stepping off point to have a conversation about performance in a particular class.  In this particular meeting, the question that was posed was one asked all of the time: what do you want to do when you graduate from high school?  The student’s response came quickly . . . I want to play on the U.S Olympic Volleyball team.

This was not the first time I heard this from the student, nor was it the first time the other adults in the room heard it.  In fact, I anticipated that it would be stated.  It is fine for a 15-year old to dream, in fact, they should!  However, when we are talking about how to prepare for life beyond high school, at some point people need to look through a realistic lens.  In this particular situation, the student had some struggles in school, but some of that was due to not being focused on learning.  The reality for our students is that in a couple of years they are going to be done with high school, and then what?  How are you going be prepared for that next step?  How are you going to fulfill your dream?

Another thing that I knew going into this meeting was that the parent was 100% supportive of their child’s dream.  That’s a good thing too, and parental support is very important in terms of kids getting to where they want to get in life.  Yes, there are those instances when a child had a dream that goes against what a parent wants, and perhaps so that can say “I told you so,” go on to great success on their chosen path.  However, common sense would say that if a parent supports their child in their pursuit of their dream, that chance of meeting it will increase.  Yet in my opinion it is important that the parent also has their feet grounded in reality and recognize whether or not their child has done what it takes to position themselves to reach their goals in life.  None of this stroking their self-esteem because the priority is that their child is happy all of the time!

At the meeting when it came time to talk about what the student wanted to do after high school for a career, she said what I expected her to say, “I want to play on the U.S. Olympic Volleyball team.”  Mom patted her on the hand and gave her one of those motherly looks that sends the message, “Whatever you want, honey.”  This is where I came in.  I looked the young lady directly in the eyes and said, “Jillian, you are not going to make the Olympic volleyball team.  That is a dream that is not going to be fulfilled.  Less than ten Division 1 volleyball players are even invited to tryout for Team USA each year.  One, maybe two of them make the team.  From there, they go to training camp and the team is whittled down even further.  Each year in the state of Iowa perhaps ten high school seniors get a scholarship to play on a Division 1 volleyball team.  Each of those teams carry about 15 players.  a third of those players never see the court or get to play meaningful minutes.  At the current time you are a junior in high school.  You are not on the volleyball team this season.  You did not play on our team last year.  You quit the team midway through your freshman year.  You are not going to play on the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.”

I went on to say, “You need to put that out of your mind because it is preventing you from looking at things that you can do with your life.  I understand that the vast majority of kids your age have no clue what they are going to do with their life, but you are putting a self-imposed obstacle in front of your options because you are misleading yourself into believing you are going to be a world class volleyball player.  To look at it another way, we are here to help you achieve your goals and help your dreams come true.  How can we help you with this volleyball dream if you aren’t even going to play volleyball on our high school team?”

There was more to the conversation, but this is the jest of it.  This may be one of the more extreme examples I have confronted.  This is a lot different from the kids growing up playing basketball in the driveway dreaming of shooting a three pointer in the NBA for the Lakers.  We need to have those dreams!  Even high school kids that dream of playing football on Saturday afternoon need to have those dreams to get them through those mind-numbing practices in mid-October.  Dreaming is important, but what are you doing to make your dreams come true?  If you are just sitting their waiting for something to happen, it’s not going to!  A dream should inspire action.  For that young girl that dreams of being a star in the movies, she had better be doing everything possible to develop her skills and talent.  If she is just going about life waiting for some “star-maker” to tap her on the shoulder and bless her with fame and fortune, that’s not going to happen.

Why do I bring this topic up?  There are two reasons.  First, most people have a dream or two about what they want out of life, and in my opinion, that it good.  If it is going to come true, the burden is on the dreamer to make it happen, to take charge of their life and do everything in their power to make it a reality.  If a person is not willing to commit to living their dream, then they are basically wasting their time, and perhaps the time and efforts of others.  They are spinning their wheels going no where, and rather than seeing their dream come true, before they know it, their life is a fantasy with no real direction or purpose.  By the time a young person is preparing to take that step into the “real world” beyond high school, they had better have at least one foot in reality.   

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What Is Really Important?

“We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”

What do you think of this quote?  I ran across this on a sign somewhere and stopped to write it down because as I was really taken by it.  It forced me to stop and think about what is really important in life, and what sustains our civilization.  I agree with this quote 100%, and yet I work in an environment where I am not sure that most of the kids come into this school with this general belief.  In fact, I know that this isn’t true because we do have kids sitting by themselves at lunch, and we do have students who also walk through the doors driven for academic success.

While I believe this quote and recognize that I can impact our student’s behavior, my mind has wandered to what it implies and how that is manifested today.  For example, we do have some parents obsessed with the academic success of their kids.  Straight-A’s is the minimum expectation, and while the student may be involved in some activities and have some friendships, there is a focus on “resume padding” efforts that are in reality little more than membership in a group or token efforts to provide service in order that one can place the “experience” on their resume, and applications for scholarships and college.  While many of these students really are good kids, there is often more of a carefully crafted image than substance.  But, aren’t these straight-A kids the smart kids?  Well, in traditional grading systems knowing how the “play the system” is often a stronger influence on the grade than being smart.  That said, I can also think of a number of students today and in the past that were top scholastic performers who were also very friendly and supportive to other students regardless of who they were.  So, I am not painting this all with the same broad brush, but I think it is important to recognize we have the problem.

Notice that at the beginning of the previous paragraph the term “ academic success” was used, not learning.  To be honest, many of the brightest kids, those that have learned a great deal, are at a tier below the top.  The success obsessed parents and students often disregard the importance of learning.  They figure out how to rely on a variety of factors to get the A, but do not challenge themselves, or stretch themselves to learn at more depth or at a higher level.  These grade-chasers look at good grades as tokens that will be converted to front-page pictures, scholarships, and awards during the senior year.  And for many, this is at the cost of learning as much as they could, and actually being a more well-rounded person.  Those kids that really want to learn tend to take more risks, and if they do not get a perfect score, they are willing to accept that.  They have internalized that what they have learned will take them further than the letter put on the top of a paper. 

It isn’t only academic success that some parents are obsessed with.  We also have some obsessed with athletic success.  Chasing the almighty college scholarship is more of a status thing for parents than it is a reality for the students.  The athletic obsessed parent often lives vicariously through their child and look forward to the opportunities to tell tales about the mail their child is receiving or the phone calls they get from coaches.  In our sports obsessed nation some of us believe that if we have a child that is being recruited to play sports at the college level, that makes us a little more special because that child carries our DNA!  Dads in particular talk about the full-ride scholarship offers, almost always stretching the truth because in reality less than 0.01% of high school seniors receive a full-ride athletic scholarship!  When it comes to high school, being the jock and recognized for athletic success is the top priority, and along with it comes a strong sense of entitlement.

This brings me back to the second part of the quote, many of us love to talk about our kids, and there is nothing wrong with being proud of their accomplishments.  I am very proud of both of my kids!  Yet how many of us have truly encouraged our kids to be a champion of those that aren’t given a fair shake?  Those that need a hand up, or are outliers for whatever reason?  Is it possible that we can expect our kids to give their best effort in whatever they pursue, stretch themselves and achieve at a high level, and at the same time reach out to those that are less fortunate?  Every day at lunch I walk through the cafeteria and see kids sitting by themselves.  How lonely is that?  A few have the courage to go sit at a table with a few other kids, but are just as isolated because they are totally ignored.  We have these kids at NFVHS, and yet other students all too easily walk right past them because they are focused on things other than the well-being of others.

How many of you spend time talking to your kids about being a nice person or doing something good for someone else each day?  Have you ever talked to your daughter about going out of her way to talk to a peer that seems to be all alone?  What about talking to your son about finding that young man that sits by himself at lunch and sitting with him?  How about instead of hanging with your buddies, who are going to be there anyway, reach out to the new kid that doesn’t know anyone?  How we treat one another is a true measure of our society and our humanity.  Quite honestly I have a lot more respect for our students that are good kids than I do those that achieve some high level of success.  They are going to have a much greater impact on our society than those that are obsessed with  high academic success, or having their pictures in the paper.  And, they will be a lot more important to that lonely kid sitting by herself at lunch.