Effort and Achievement: A Journey of Discovery
Did you ever fail a quiz or a test in school? I did. Did you ever forget to complete a homework assignment or, even worse, choose not to do it? I did. Did you ever break a rule at school or at home and endure the consequences that followed? I have failed and will continue to fail. While I work hard to minimize the occurrences and impact of such failure, by virtue of my humanity I cannot prevent it.
A recent study found that stress among adolescents is nearly at the same level as stress among adults. This is an alarming discovery, especially because adolescents have not fully developed healthy coping measures to release stress. Some inevitably choose unhealthy ways to alleviate their stress. Indeed, the same study also reveals that adolescents who are stressed do not realize the impact that their stress may have on their physical and emotional well-being. As educators and parents who are attuned to the well-being of our students and children, we must be attentive to this study and explore ways that we can work to ameliorate the negative impact of high levels of stress experienced by our students and children.
For 28 years, I have worked with adolescents and have helped them navigate the waters of academically challenging school environments. I have seen many students reach great achievements in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in other areas of engagement. I have also seen many students and some parents equate achievement with perfection. Indeed the pressure to achieve perceived goals of perfection is real for many students; and, it causes stress. The necessary challenge for schools and for parents is to help place achievement in its proper context.
With few exceptions, students at Trinity-Pawling want to succeed. They want to perform well academically and athletically. They have set high goals for themselves, and they work hard toward reaching these goals. In short, boys at Trinity-Pawling want to achieve. Trinity-Pawling, moreover, is committed to helping them achieve. As educators, though, we must also teach our students that high achievement does not mean perfection. As importantly, we must always seek to associate achievement with effort so that the focus is on the effort, even more than the actual achievement.
The pursuit of excellence through effort allows young people to understand that learning is a process and that their commitment to their own growth is a life-long journey. It also allows them to understand that hard work does not lead to perfection. Rather, hard work is the process by which our discovery of the world is enhanced. Part of this discovery is the ability to learn by doing, including the importance of learning from mistakes. Hard work can be liberating to young people if it is disassociated from the pressures of perfection.
Our students must identify their hard work with a longer journey of discovery, rather than a series of boxes to check on their way to another goal, such as college. To achieve this result, we must work to place achievement and effort in its proper context and to liberate our students from the pressures to be perfect.
Even with such lofty goals, we must also acknowledge that the stress that many of our students experience is real and palpable. As teachers, we must be mindful of what our students’ experiences are like and help them navigate these challenges. When necessary, we must adjust our own plans if they unintentionally create an unreasonable objective for students to accomplish, such as several major assessments scheduled to be given on the same day.
It is also important that our students know the resources that are available to them when they are coping with stressful situations. When they feel stressed and overwhelmed by challenges, they need to be in dialogue with caring adults, such as a parent, a trusted teacher, a caring advisor, or the trained professionalism of a counselor or a psychologist. The availability of dialogue and compassion must be a readily-seen resource for all students. As a parent, if you believe that your son is experiencing unhealthy feelings of anxiety and stress, please let us know. We will also do the same. We share a commitment that their journey of learning and growth is a healthy one.
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