The Head’s Tale: Defining SUCCESS

This is the time of year, when I can see the stress levels of our Grade 12s go up exponentially as they focus on university admission, Grade Point Averages (GPA), SAT scores, and choosing “the right” university.  The purpose of learning shifts to compiling the right credentials and getting accepted at a coveted university – all of this at the expense of finding joy in expanding their knowledge and skills, while also growing as individuals.  This fixation on using rankings to determine the best schools does not take into consideration the personal attributes of the applicant based on their life experiences, personal goals, family expectations, or the influence peer pressure can have on their final choice. We need to help our girls realize that their futures and their sense of worth should not be determined by which schools say “yes” and which schools say “no”.

Higher education is not a passive experience but rather an active one that requires students to take advantage of all the opportunities offered.  In this instance, the most important measure for defining success is the extent to which students immerse themselves in the intellectual and social life of that institution.  Highly motivated students will succeed wherever they get their education regardless of a school’s perceived status.

In the younger grades, school success is generally measured by grades, test scores, awards, and accolades. All of these are measures of performance that generally define success at a “moment in time,” but they don’t always recognize the importance of effort, perseverance, and risk-taking leading to a growth mindset for future learning. Measuring success by grades and test scores is not enough to determine future success or happiness. In fact, this score-based practice can hurt kids and instill an attitude that getting the right answer is more important than trying, playing, exploring one’s passions, or just appreciating the act of learning.  Not all skills and abilities can be measured by numbers, including effort, collaboration, curiosity, respect, honesty, kindness, initiative, and, most particularly, creativity.

The best gift we can give to our children is an understanding of the inter-connectedness of success and struggle, and the importance of failing forward. Allowing students to make (and own) their mistakes and to develop resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination (grit), will provide them with the tools to define and celebrate their success on their terms.

In the end, we want our girls to develop a sense of purpose leading to increased self-efficacy not just increased self-esteem.  This is where the connection between confidence and competence is critical! By engaging our girls in conversations where they take the lead in describing their own learning beyond what is recorded on a report card or described by a teacher, they can clearly demonstrate their own sense of accomplishment.  Students with a strong sense of self will be better equipped to handle the demands of adult life and won’t have to rely on others to validate their learning or advocate on their behalf. The opportunity for them to participate in assessing their own learning will demonstrate their ability to:

• Demonstrate what they know (understanding)
• Ask questions (curiosity)
• Take risks and learn from mistakes (ownership)
• See the connection between one’s actions and resulting outcomes (consequences)
• Value commitment to a goal or task (effort)
And finally,
• Know themselves as learners (self-awareness)

So… at SMS, we pride ourselves in working in partnership with families to create a safe and secure place for our girls to demonstrate and own their learning. That is probably the best gift we can provide in helping our girls transition to adulthood.

“A child needs to do the work of life in order to be part of life.”
Julie Lythcott-Haims

“I realized I needed to have a plan bigger than waiting for someone to
recognize my stunning brilliance.”

       Stephen Parkhurst (millennial filmmaker)

Resources:
How to Raise an Adult. Julie Lythcott-Haims. 2015
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be:  An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. Frank Bruni. 2015
TEDtalk entitled:  How to raise successful kids -- without over-parenting

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