A new school year is about to begin! After thirty years of parenting, homeschooling and tutoring, I still feel like the year actually begins when school is back in session. It is a time to switch gears, form new habits and aim for changes that lead to successfully reaching goals.
This summer, I read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors present ideas that can be applied to students in school as well.
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis explains it this way. He says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is the Elephant’s Rider. The Rider seems to be the one in control since the Rider holds the reins. But the Elephant is much larger, and when the Rider and Elephant do not agree on which direction to go, the emotional-side Elephant is going to win.
While the Rider is the long-term thinker who is in charge of planning and direction, the Elephant is source of love, loyalty, sympathy and compassion. But the elephant is also the one who wants immediate gratification, and when there is a choice between an ice cream today or better health next month, the Elephant will choose the ice cream every time.
So it is important to help both the rational mind “Rider” and the emotional mind “Elephant.”
Here are ways to help your student’s Rider:
1. Provide Clarity: Sometimes when a student cannot complete an assignment, it is because the Rider does not know exactly where it is supposed to go. Students can check with their teacher or fellow students to make sure they correctly understand the expectations. A parent or tutor can also help clarify concepts and academic material.
2. Limit the Number of Decisions a Student Needs to Make: Self-control is a limited resource, and when a student is tired and
3. Look for Bright Spots: Discover what is working and help the student focus on more of that. Usually when a parent sees a report card that says their child earned four “A”’s and one “F”, the parent spends most of the discussion time on the “F.” But an interesting twist would be to explore what the student did to make the “A”’s possible and encourage them to figure out how to replicate that in other classes.
4. Create a Destination Postcard: Make a mental and verbal picture of what the end goal will be. Standing here a year from now, what do you want to have accomplished? What kind of person will you have become? What new skills will you have acquired? Get a picture of that now, and then head in that direction.
5. Script Moves: Have a steady habit of times and places where achieving goals can happen. A designated desk where school work it done and a certain time slot every day that is set aside to complete that work can help.
The Elephant needs help too.
1. Find the Feeling: The Elephant may know that getting good grades is a logical thing to do, but it means a lot more if a student can connect their feelings and identity to what they do in school. If they ask themselves questions like “What kind of person am I?” and answer that with, “I am a