5DI Commitment to Community: Education Series
Go Beyond the Grades
Get the most out of your school experience
Mom watches anxiously as Bobby and Caitlin get on the bus. Her feelings mirror those of her children: excitement laced with nervous anxiety. She hopes it will be a good year. Bobby had a little trouble focusing last year, and Caitlin didn’t seem to connect with her teacher, causing her to struggle with her work at times. Fortunately, neither of them had any issues with other kids, but mom always felt like a bully could pop up at any time, and she just had to hope her kids would be able to handle themselves. You simply never know what’s going to happen. About the only thing she could accurately predict is the curriculum her children would be learning. She had no way of knowing how things would go socially; either with the teachers or their peers. She couldn’t be there to moderate or mediate the hundreds of interactions that would occur each day, but she knew, as an active parent, that she could serve as a guide and help her kids deal with whatever challenges arose.
Good grades are important in school, but there are other things students can learn and develop as well. Students should be learning to improve focus, navigate successfully through social situations, develop a disciplined work ethic, and increase confidence and character. Many students want to develop these skills but are unsure how to go about doing so. When given some concrete exercises that teach them how to improve in these areas, children are given a sense of control and feel more accountable for their own success. By taking a few minutes to apply a few basic principles we can increase the likelihood of imparting these valuable lessons to students.
Staying Focused and Maintaining Concentration
Focusing on proper breathing while sitting at a desk will help students regain their focus and improve concentration, especially if they are feeling a little overwhelmed, confused, or even bored. Proper breathing will also have a calming effect when nervous about a test or speaking in front of the class. Just a few diaphragmatic breaths periodically throughout the day can make a big difference.
Proper breathing involves just a few simple keys: Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and/or nose naturally. There is no specific speed or rhythm that needs to be followed; however making the exhale slightly longer than the inhale is beneficial. Let the belly expand when inhaling and squeeze the belly in to exhale fully. Keep hands flat on the desk or legs and have their eyes open and relaxed so that focus remains on the teacher.
Connecting with the Teacher
A good connection with the teacher can help make the school year more constructive and enjoyable for everyone. Teachers get excited about students who are interested in learning. Students who sit slumped at their desk or staring off into space don’t seem very interested in learning. Sometimes the students are interested, but their body language does not convey that to the teacher. Students can practice showing their teacher that they are interested in what the teacher has to say with their body and face, as well as their level of participation in class.
You can practice these skills at home by role playing and providing feedback to the student on the following exercises: Practice focusing on the teacher whenever possible; try smiling, and nodding, making eye contact to demonstrate they are listening. Have the students work on keeping their shoulders back and head up while the teacher is talking; have them look up from their work when they can instead of always looking down at the desk. Play the role of the teacher and have the student ask questions, volunteer answers, and contribute to discussions in a strong, confident tone.
The kids came home buzzing about their first day. They liked their teachers, and were already talking about which activities they might pursue. Bobby was thinking about giving basketball a try, but he didn’t think he was good enough to play. Caitlin wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Mom knew she tended to sit back and see what her friends planned on doing and then following their lead.
Mom wondered out loud, “What’s the one thing standing between you and trying something new?”
Caitlin rolled her eyes, “Myself.”
Mom also wondered, “What’s worse than failing at something?”
Bobby promptly stated, “Not trying at all.”
Mom smiled, “You two are so smart.”
Everyone feels nervous and insecure at times. Confident seeming people may not always feel confident; they just learn to act confident. The shape of the body has power, and by practicing a strong shape and a strong voice, our feelings will respond and so will the people around us. Many bully and difficult social situations could be avoided by projecting a more confident demeanor. Remember, just the appearance of being confident will make you about forty percent more successful in whatever you are doing; whether it’s trying out for an activity, making a new friend, or dealing with a challenging situation. A little belief goes a long way!
For the Body
• Remind your child to smile easily, and make eye contact with people.
• Encourage your child to offer their name or a greeting first when it is appropriate.
• Have them pay attention to how they stand and move when they feel good; then remind them to duplicate that same posture when they feel less confident.
• Have them talk to you while keeping their arms relaxed and their stance open; they should face you squarely with their head up.
For the Mind
• Have your child practice projecting their voice and speaking clearly.
• Explain how to avoid pre-qualifying in the negative. Encourage them to do their best without making excuses, and speak about themselves and others in a positive way
• Discuss avoiding conversations that are negative, especially toward another person.
The year flew by. Bobby gave basketball a shot, and decided it wasn’t his thing so he took up swimming instead. Mom was glad he stepped up and tried. Caitlin had some rough moments with some girls in school. After a few weeks of tears at home, her refusal to be a victim caused the girls in question to back off, without mom having to go to the school and intervene. Mom reflected on evening conversations about what to do in various social situations, and the often humorous role playing sessions they shared as her children practiced at home to increase their ability to be successful in school. For them, it was just another form of homework. For mom, it was maintenance and preparation. Maintaining their ability to handle life’s challenges, and preparation for the day when instead of getting on a bus, they’d be getting behind the wheel of a car, and heading out on their own.
School is supposed to help pave the way to responsible adulthood. The lessons learned go far beyond the ability to read and write. They are learning what type of person they wish to be. They discover what they value. They are exposed to a variety of influences, and many of them won’t be positive. The key to success is preparation. When a crisis occurs, and fear or anxiety kick in, the child who can say “I know this. I’ve practiced this.” has a huge advantage over their less prepared classmates who are forced to randomly react because they lack a better option.
In the Martial Arts, there is a saying: “Repetition is the mother of skill.” Practicing these few techniques consistently will help students squeeze the most out of school. School should be fun, not scary. Giving children tools which will help them succeed on their own will give them a sense of accomplishment that will help them develop into a responsible adult. Ultimately, that is every parent’s goal; to know that his or her child has been given an opportunity to live a successful life and transition from child to responsible adult.
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