A Fresh Start
For most students, a new semester is about to begin. Depending on how your student performed last semester, you may feel excited, anxious, nostalgic, nervous, hopeful, or scared (or a combination). But no matter how they performed, what an incredible opportunity they have to continue a positive trend, or completely reverse historical underachievement. This semester is a blank slate for them to write a new chapter in their academic career and their personal confidence.
How You Can Help
True results come from intrinsic motivation and from students taking ownership of their work. We can’t do it for them, and for them to perform at their best it has to come from within. Below are some steps you can take to help your student get in the right frame of mind and develop an effective plan for the upcoming semester.
Reflection: An important first step is self-reflection on past performance. Asking them questions and listening without judgment (watch your facial expressions and body language!) is an effective way to get them to open up and be honest with themselves. We recommend starting with positive questions first, then going to improvement areas. For example, before asking what they could have done better, ask them what they did really well. Below are some sample questions, you probably don’t need to ask all of them. Decide which ones are best or most relevant for your student.
- What did you do well last semester?
- What do you think you could have done better?
- Why do you think you did well in [class they did well in]?
- Why did [class they did not do as well in] not go as well?
- Were there times when you feel like you struggled or were overwhelmed? If so, what caused it or what went wrong? Could it have been prevented?
- Do you feel like you did well managing your time and studying ahead?
- Were there times you felt like you procrastinated too much?
- Did you take good notes and pay attention in class, or did you feel like you had to reteach yourself the material when you were studying for a test?
- How were your grades impacted by tests and quizzes vs. smaller assignments and participation scores?
- How would you rate your study habits while you study, on a scale of 1-5?
- Do you feel efficient when you study and do homework, or do you easily get distracted? Are there changes you could make to avoid this?
- Did you get enough sleep?
- How can you build on the momentum you created last semester?
- How can you protect yourself from falling into the habits that hurt you last semester?
Big Picture: Take the focus away from school briefly and talk to them about some of their long-term goals. For example, ask them questions like, “if you could have absolutely any job in the world, what would that be? What would your ideal week look like in 15 years?” Then, help lead them through questions to discover on their own how they can leverage school as a platform to work in their dream career, accomplish their ultimate lifestyle. Do your best to help them connect their passions and interests to their performance in school. The reason intrinsic motivation is so often absent for students related to school, is that school seems so day-to-day and they can’t consistently connect the weight of their current performance to their long-term aspirations.
Empower: As we said before, students have to develop intrinsic motivation to perform and take ownership of their work. An important step to develop this mindset is to help them understand they have complete control over their performance this semester, regardless of previous semesters! This realization can even be scary for adults with non-academic goals, but if it can be fully understood, this discovery can be beautiful and incredibly powerful. We have a tendency to point to external factors, like the teacher being unfair or the coursework being hard (which happens!), but nothing can impact how hard we work or what we do on a daily basis other than ourselves.
Goal-Setting: Trying to make improvements in anything without specific, measurable goals makes it very difficult to make progress, especially because we can’t track it! Let your students come up with this goal first, whether it’s a specific GPA or % improvement over last semester, then gauge whether that goal is within their comfort zone or if it’s a stretch. If it’s a number they’re confident they can achieve, encourage them to set it slightly higher. Setting higher goals can be intimidating, but can also make you work harder or behave differently, which can produce better results even if the higher goal isn’t achieved. “If you set your goals ridiculously high, and it’s a failure, you’ll fail above everyone else’s successes.” -James Cameron
Structure: After establishing any goal, the most critical step is to create the roadmap for how the goal will be accomplished. Breaking the goal down into smaller milestones to hit and measure progress along the way can help your student maintain their focus. Additionally, setting up a weekly calendar to organize daily activities is a must. For detailed instructions and a template, please check out this article: One Step to Extreme Organization.
Incentives: While they cannot replace intrinsic motivation, new incentives based on their performance can add fuel to the fire and serve as a reminder to stay focused throughout the semester. This can be something small like dinner at their favorite restaurant, a break from chores, or more time doing their favorite activity.
DON’T Micromanage: Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is step back and let our students experience the benefits and risks of completely managing themselves. As tempting as it may be to step in throughout the semester, do your best to help them develop a plan, get organized, and in the right mindset before the semester starts. Then, let the goals, systems, milestones, and calendar you put in place guide your student, and serve as less intrusive touch points for you to check in with them. We see so many students develop the crippling habit of depending on their parents, or “safety net”, for their schoolwork, their schedule, and other responsibilities, thinking that their parents will always be there to help remind them or bail them out of tough situations. Student have to feel the weight of their actions, good and bad, to learn responsibility and accountability. While this could lead to some slip ups in the near term, the long-term benefits of learning these skills at a young age cannot be undervalued.
Matthew and Joseph Moheban are the Co-Founders of 220 Youth Leadership, which has year-round programs focused on empowering students to enhance their potential, maximize their performance, and achieve their ultimate goals. For more information, please visit 220leadership.com.