Portrait of cheerful girl holding book while classmates in background

Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District

As we move through the holiday season, a new calendar year brings discussions of goals or resolutions for the New Year. For those families with children in school, these discussions often include a conversation regarding academic grades. These conversations will take place in a variety of settings as parents work to determine how to best encourage and support the academic success of their children. In order to make those interactions as productive as possible, here are some principles to keep in mind. I have shared these before, but they bear repeating as we progress through a New Year.

Talk about grades as feedback instead of labels. Instead of labeling a child as an “A” student, or setting goals to get “all As,” discuss the learning that the grades reflect. By focusing on the learning taking place and not the grade, we help our children stay focused on the purpose of school. Instead of talking about what can be done to “raise their grade,” we can focus our discussions on what can be done to improve learning. Focusing on learning promotes better long-term attitudes about school, and less stress related to the need to get a specific grade.

Emphasize the importance of effort and growth. Low grades are not always bad, and high grades shouldn’t suggest students have reached their potential. All children should engage in activities that push them to excel. A love of challenges will help students develop academic and behavioral skills for future achievement. In the words of Dr. Carol Dweck, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach them to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will build and repair their own confidence.”

Listen. When we have discussions with our children about grades, whether they be high or low, we should try to spend more time listening than talking. By asking questions that probe how a child feels about their grades, school and their interests, and then actively listening, we gain a greater understanding of their needs and how we can best support them as parents. Children don’t respond well to conversations they perceive as “nagging.” Listening can help ensure the conversation doesn’t go that direction.

These three simple principles can help any parent ensure that conversations surrounding achievement in school remain positive, and support ongoing success for children.