Success Redefined – Rethinking Motivation

We all have different reasons for getting up each morning and doing what we set out to do. Motivation is the reason why we do things and is a crucial component that inspires us to reach our goals.

There are two forces at play when it comes to motivation: intrinsic – which is doing something because it’s personally meaningful; and extrinsic – which is doing something for a reward or to avoid punishment. We rely on these forces to achieve our objectives – whether we are playing for a team, participating in the classroom, reading a book or simply helping out with chores at home.

As parents, educators, coaches and lifelong learners, we sometimes wonder which motivational approach is better in managing those relationships – to be more aggressive or to be more open and nurturing. This was the matter in question at the recent KCS Encouraging Dialogue event held in October.

“Break out of convention to prepare for your child’s performance, well-being and success” was the theme discussed by former Olympians, Jason Dorland and Robyn Meagher at the event, followed by powerful messages surrounding the importance of building relationships when it comes to coaching, teaching and parenting.

Jason and Robyn provided practical tips, based upon their shared experiences, on how we can best coach and teach our children through nurturing and encouraging. They both elaborated on their successes and failures, using motivation as a tool, resulting in greater acceptance, fulfillment and mutual respect.

Learning begins after a respectful relationship has been developed. Once the respect is there and the individual feels safe, cared for and empowered, then they are ready to engage and to learn. Before we engage with people, we often need to step back and consider where they are coming from, as well as understanding and respecting their intentions and goals. This may sound easier said than done, especially when one of the people in the relationship is in an authoritative position.

Throughout their athletic careers, Jason and Robyn were coached and trained from two very different perspectives and approaches. Jason experienced the ‘warrior, aggressive, win-at-all-costs’ approach, mixed with a bit of anger and extrinsic condemnation as the motivational tool.   Jason sees this as not an effective or successful approach in the long run. Alternatively, Robyn’s coaching and training was based on mutual respect, support, serenity, intrinsic composure and appreciation. After getting to know Robyn and understanding her training history and coaching style, Jason saw and appreciated the benefits. Over time, they worked together to develop practical tips on how we can help children navigate through the success and failures of life.

A few helpful tips from the evening were:

  • To find out what you are capable of is a journey. Intrinsic motivation is not the chase. Intrinsic motivation is powered by love and high performance is the by-product.
  • Ego driven motivation is powered by reputation, reward and fear, whereas spirit driven motivation is powered by service, mastery and joy.
  • Coaching is built around three questions:
    • What went well?
    • What was tricky?
    • What do you want to change moving forward?
  • The journey of life is the gift. Celebrate and enjoy it!

In coaching, parenting and teaching, motivation is used and can be delivered aggressively, by instilling fear, or softly by imparting love. Both approaches impact behavior in a variety of ways.

The benefits are evident when there is mutual respect in a relationship; the results can be positive and boundless.  Investing and working on the connection in order to cultivate mutual respect, feelings of trust, and support is always well worth the time and energy. There is value in nurturing a strong sense of connection between the coach and the athlete, the teacher and the student, the parent and the child.

We all grow and learn through our trials and our errors. The relationships between success and failure is fluid; they are linked in the process of growth, learning and change. And communication and motivation are vital components in this process. When the lines of communication are open, and the right form of motivation is applied, there is synergy – collaboration and cohesiveness – like Canadian geese – we fly together.

We were happy to host Jason and Robyn back in October.  Our staff will continue to work closely with them in the two four-day professional workshops in the summer of 2020 and 2021.

Putting the “Home” in Homework

Homework is often seen as a thankless job, but when it’s approached in the right way, homework can be an amazing opportunity to build relationships, make connections, develop healthy routines, and cultivate a positive sense of ownership over one’s own learning. Because it’s not about getting homework done. It’s about how you get it done.

Teamwork & Support

While we want our students to be independent, that doesn’t mean homework should be a solitary endeavour. Start by sitting down with your child and have them pull out their agenda or log on to Edmodo. Ask them to walk you through their upcoming assignments and projects, and then have them explain their homework timeline for the next few days or week. This ensures that your child is learning to plan and manage their own responsibilities, but in a way that allows you to provide them with advice and feedback before the work piles up and becomes unmanageable.

Making Connections

One of the benefits of homework is that it can help you learn a bit more about what your child is working on in school. Once you know what they are discussing and exploring in class, you can help them make connections between their learning at school and the wider world. If you are aware of what your child is working on at home, you can use that as a jumping-off point to initiate and extend conversations that will help them take their learning to the next level. Parents who do this often tell me that a quick homework chat can end up sparking deep and wide-ranging family conversations over dinner.

Healthy Routines

Homework will be a part of your child’s life for many years, so now is the time to develop a consistent set of homework routines and habits. Start by having them block off time that is just for homework – the earlier in the evening, the better! Adjust the schedule to accommodate personal and family commitments such as sports teams or activities. Have them set up a space where they will always do their homework. They may want to retreat to their bedroom, but you should encourage them to work in an area that has fewer distractions and better access to help. While the dining room table may be a slightly noisier workspace, it is a location that ensures you can keep an eye on them and redirect their attention as necessary. Sticking to a consistent time and space will help make homework a more calm and focused experience.

Staying Positive

Helping your child develop a positive attitude towards their homework is probably the single most important piece of this puzzle. If you stay positive in the way you talk about homework, you can help your child understand that there is value in the experience. If you talk about homework as a way to develop and improve upon their skills, then you help your child create and foster a growth mindset. If you talk about homework as a way to become more independent, then they learn to have confidence in their abilities. And if you talk about the ways in which you can use homework as a way to learn from each other, then they learn to both share their knowledge and seek out help when needed.

The School’s Role

Of course, teachers have a big role to play in making homework a positive and healthy experience. Faculty at KCS follow a set of homework guidelines to ensure that homework expectations are clearly communicated, flexible, relevant, and motivating. Of course, they also strive to ensure that the amount of homework given is appropriate and reasonable. For more information on KCS’s homework policies and guidelines, please consult the Parent Handbook and the Homework at KCS document.

At the end of the day, homework is something that kids need to learn to manage. And if they learn to manage it in a positive and proactive way, it will end up being a rich and rewarding experience. Homework is like most things in life – the more you put into it, the more you get back.

Redefining Success

On October 24, 2019, we will be hosting the next installment in our ongoing Encouraging Dialogue speaker series. This time, we’re fortunate to have the chance to hear from Robyn Meagher and Jason Dorland, two former Canadian Olympians who will share their powerful message about the importance of relationships when it comes to coaching, teaching, parenting, and life in general.

Jason’s sport is rowing. For many years, he subscribed to the “warrior” approach to coaching and training. He was driven by aggression and winning at all costs. His coaches yelled, belittled, and used anger as a tool for motivation. But when he finally made it to the 1988 Olympics, his team’s devastating failure made him reassess his entire attitude towards competition and coaching.

Another huge factor in this reassessment was meeting Robyn Meagher, a middle-distance runner who represented Canada at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. She came from a very different tradition of coaching – one grounded in serenity, calmness, and an understanding that each athlete is an individual with their own complex emotional needs and history.

At first, he was skeptical of this seemingly wishy-washy approach to training for elite athletes. But over time, he came to realize that this style of coaching actually led to better results, even at the highest level of competition. Now the two of them work together to provide practical tips on how parents and teachers can coach children through their successes and failures, with greater acceptance and fulfillment.

I personally have found Robyn and Jason’s message to be a profoundly transformative one. After hearing about their work through former KCS Head of School, David Richards, and learning about their work with both the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS) and the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), I decided to bring them in and have them work with our entire faculty to help us learn how to better understand our students. A third of our faculty took part in a four-day high performance training session this past summer. Over the next two years, the rest of our faculty will also take part in this training. I know this will help us to not only better tailor our teaching and coaching to our students, but also help us remember to “push the pause button” in all our relationships.

Relationships are like icebergs – we know what’s on the surface, but we may not know what’s going on underneath. Which means we need to stop and take a moment to understand where people are coming from. Twenty-five years ago, I would walk into a class and teach a lesson. And if a kid didn’t get it, that was their problem. Now, we know that we must take the time to understand where each student is at, and then meet them where they are.

That means learning how to build our relationships with students, coaches, teachers, parents – everyone. It means pausing and not jumping to conclusions. Once upon a time, we would say, “I’m the coach, I’m going tell you what to do, and there’s no room for questions.” But as Jason and Robyn have discovered, that approach just doesn’t work.

Kids can’t learn until they are ready to learn. And being ready to learn means feeling safe, empowered, mindful, and cared for. But you can’t make a child feel all those things unless you’ve taken the time to build a relationship. You have to realize that you are bringing your perceptions and biases to every interaction you have with another person – whether it’s your spouse, your colleague, your student, or your child. You have to pause, think about that person’s intentions, and then give them the benefit of the doubt as you move forward to help them grow and learn. That can be hard to do, but that’s exactly what Robyn and Jason are here to remind us to do.

I hope many of you can take the time to join us at this wonderful event. We all deal with complex relationships every day, and I believe that Robyn and Jason’s message can help all of us to better manage those relationships and understand the people in our lives. I really feel that you will find the ninety minutes worthwhile.  I hope to see you there!

Encouraging Dialogue: Success Redefined will take place on Thursday, October 24 at 6:30 PM in Canada Hall. This is a free event, but we ask you to please register here so we can plan appropriately.  

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Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

The World That We Design

Last week, we were treated to our annual spring concert – a wonderful showcase of our extracurricular bands and choirs. The arts do so much to make the world better. In fact, beyond the pleasure of listening to beautiful music, this concert included a message from our primary choir that struck a particular chord:

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
(“Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Part of educating students (and raising children) is preparing them for the world they will eventually face, independent of us. Much of that world is what it is, for better or for worse (sigh). Of course, we’re getting them ready for that. But the world is also what we collectively make it. At KCS, we’re teaching our students how to design the world they face for the better. Here’s one recent responsible risk where we did just that.

In May, Ms. Hooper, Ms. Gaudet and I joined our grade 8s on a trip to the WE Global Learning Centre downtown. This was the culminating event of a year spent learning about human geography, including forces shaping the human experience and our relationship with the planet. Against a backdrop of global challenges, they also learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were where our grade 8 students would both demonstrate and leverage their learning for the better.

At the WE Centre, our grade 8s pitched social enterprises to experts from the WE community, enterprises that they created from scratch to help address one or more of the U.N. goals.

They created enterprises to help address illiteracy, pollution, access to clean water, gender equality, health and wellness, climate change, poverty, education, plus life below and above water. One enterprise, Hakuna Njaa (meaning ‘No hunger’ in Swahili), was a proposed restaurant that would allow hungry Torontonians to help fund food and nutrition programs in areas facing a food crisis. “At our restaurant, people won’t just be paying for food, they are paying to make a difference.” Their pitch wrapped up with:

“We’re hungry for change. You should be too.”

We don’t know if our grade 8s will go on to further pursue their social enterprise plans. Their time at KCS is soon over and our Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) won’t follow them to their high schools. What they will take with them, however, is something that will follow them wherever they go. Here’s how one parent described her son’s reflection on the day:

“Listening to [my son] describe how inspired he was to be at the office yesterday and how meaningful it made it for the kids to have the “experts in the field” vote on the projects…the whole experience from start to finish has absolutely made an impact and a difference already. It made [him] think more deeply for example about believing he could actually make a difference, which I feel is an enormously empowering thing for kids to feel in this era of knowing so much about problems that affect the world, and yet not feeling like they can always help…or make an impact.”

Part of preparing students for the future is preparing them to design it, and instilling the knowledge and confidence that they can. We’re heeding the message. Our students are dreaming. And it’s music to our ears.

(Note – This partnership with WE, including an introduction to social entrepreneurship, instruction in making a strong pitch, and expert feedback and judging through the day, was supported by the KCS StEP Fund, thanks to the generosity of KCS parents and 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala sponsors)

Building a strong foundation in grade 1

Grade 1 is an essential year for academics. It’s the year when students develop a set of core skills that lay the foundation for future success in the elementary grades.

Throughout their time in Grade 1, students are given direct instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, to ensure that they have a strong understanding of fundamental academic concepts. These lessons are supported by a number of daily routines that give the students opportunities to regularly practice their skills and solidify new concepts.

Reading is a huge priority in Grade 1. Every student participates in their own ability-leveled reading group for 50 minutes a day. For some students, this means a strong focus on phonics and decoding words, to help build their ability to read longer texts independently. For those needing more enriched work, this means more challenging books with a focus on comprehension, basic research skills, and responding to texts with detailed writing tasks.

The Grade 1 students also participate in weekly “writer’s workshops”, where they are taught the conventions of writing, ranging from spelling to grammar to punctuation. To build on those lessons, the students take part in daily journal writing. After they have written their journal, they work with a teacher to edit and correct their writing. This editing process not only reinforces key lessons, it also consistently raises the bar for each individual student’s writing.

When it comes to mathematics, our Grade 1 teachers blend hands-on exploration work with direct instruction in addition, subtraction, word problems, and place value. These lessons are supported by follow-up assignments that are designed to help students practice their basic facts and develop their problem-solving skills.

Any engineer will tell you that the strength of a structure depends on the strength of the foundation. In Grade 1 at KCS, we build the strongest foundation possible!

Remember, be kind to yourself

Throughout my years as a teacher I have found that I am often learning as much from my students as they are from me. Working with the youngest students at KCS I am continuously taught to enjoy the little things in life. To appreciate the first snowfall of the year, and the second, and the third, to revel at the intricacies of an insect’s body, and see the beauty in every flower or weed. However, the biggest lesson I have learned came from a group of students I do not often see.

This year the grade 4s have been amazing anti-bullying heroes (as deemed by Mrs. Drummond). Recently they were visited by Jason from MLSE (Community, Alumni & Educational Program Specialist, Toronto Argonauts) for a pre-assembly workshop for the upcoming Huddle Up assembly. He spoke to them about how being proud of who you are and being part of a strong community helps to deter and diffuse bullying.

Out of this conversation came a great initiative from the grade 4s. They asked that each person in the school make their own trading card. This card would have a list of two to five positive qualities about yourself along with a picture. Once done you could show others your card in the hall, at lunch, or during recess.

Dbowes

As I sat down to complete this task I realized that bullying is not just an external force. That more often than not it can be an internal one. We often think of a bully as someone else who may say or do things to hurt us. We don’t often consider the fact that we can be our own bullies.

If asked to write a list of positive qualities for anyone here at KCS I wouldn’t skip a beat. I could rhyme off a number of things without hesitation. However, when it came time to write my own list I sat there for a very long time considering what to write. It wasn’t because I thought there were too many things to choose from. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had no idea what to write. Ultimately, being a huge Harry Potter fan I went with some qualities used to describe my Hogwarts House.

Once again I ended up learning just as much from the students as they do from me. Whether intentional or not, the grade 4s have taught me that I need to stop being my own bully, and remember to be kinder to myself. This is a lesson I will take with me through the good days and the bad and I will be forever grateful to a group of 8 and 9 year olds for teaching me this very valuable lesson.

Top 5 March Break Staycation Tips

Who needs ski hills or Caribbean beaches? We live in one of the best cities on the planet, so if you’re spending this March Break at home, get on out there and experience all Toronto has to offer! But if you’re feeling a little low on inspiration, here are five family-friendly ideas to get you started. Have fun!

Canadian-Style Sugar Rush

Nothing says the end of winter like the arrival of maple syrup. So get the kids bundled up and head out to one of the many maple syrup sugarbush events around the city. Our two favourites are the super outdoorsy Kortright Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival and the decidedly downtown Sugar Shack TO fest at Sugar Beach. If the kids give you any static about leaving the house, just remind them there’s plenty of maple candy waiting for them outside!

Kortright

Dinner and a Show

Toronto has tons of great theatre for drama fans of all ages, but this March Break is filled with shows specifically for the little ones. First-time theatregoers will love the puppet-filled version of the classic book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Young People’s Theatre’s main stage is hosting The 26 Letter Dance, a rhythmic and poetic show for ages 4-8. For fans of the Junie B. Jones series of books, there’s Junie B. Jones the Musical. And for those a little too cool for such youthful fare, there’s Mirvish’s production of The Lightning Thief. Just don’t forget to grab dinner downtown afterwards!

Mirvish

Strap on the Skates

If you want to get outside and active, nothing beats a good old fashioned skating rink. But give your local rink a rest and try out one of Toronto’s many unique skating options. There’s the Bentway under the Gardiner, the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront, and the Evergreen Rink at the Brick Works. For those who want to put a little boogie into their skating experience, the rink at Ontario Place hosts skate parties on Friday and Saturday nights, complete with local DJs. Of course, if you feel like staying a little closer to home, there’s always the local Colonel Samuel Smith skate path down at Humber College!

Ice Skating

Brainy Break

Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! If you want to keep your kid’s grey matter engaged over the break, there are plenty of brainy options. The Inventorium 2.0 exhibit at the Science Centre is designed to spark creativity in kids by providing them with lots of hands-on STEAM activities that are based around coding, making, and experimentation. As always, the ROM is putting on a ton of special March Break events, along with a great collection of new exhibits (the wildlife photography display is a real standout!). And if your little one loves creepy crawlies, there’s the Spiders Alive exhibit at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

ROM-DinosaurDisplay-May9-04

Family Game Night

In this age of screen-dominated entertainment, it can nice to unplug and enjoy an hour or two with a few good old-fashioned board games. The board game café scene in Toronto has taken off in the last few years, so there are plenty of options to choose from! The most family-friendly choice is probably Snakes and Lattes, which boasts three locations throughout the city. There’s also a couple of upstarts in the west end of the city, including A-Game Café in the Annex and Manapool in Bloor West Village. Just remember to be a good sport when your ten-year-old cleans your clock in a spirited game of Settlers of Catan!

Catan

So there are a few ideas to get you out of the house and into the March Break staycation spirit! We look forward to hearing all about your family’s Toronto adventures after the break!!!

Parenting in the Age of Fortnite

I’ve been playing videogames for pretty much my whole life. I started with Pong in my neighbour’s basement way back in kindergarten and then moved on to Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 in elementary school. I traded floppy disks filled with dozens of computer games with my friends in middle school, while Nintendo ruled the day in high school and university. I even spent a good chunk of my twenties working as a game reviewer for a handful of magazines and websites. To this day (well into my forties!), I spend a couple of hours each week relaxing on the couch with my PlayStation or Nintendo Switch.

So it goes without saying that I think videogames are pretty great. At their best, they put players in imaginative worlds filled with branching stories, head-scratching puzzles, and endless opportunities for creative expression. They’re also just really, really fun!

Clearly, many of our students feel the same way, particularly when it comes to Fortnite. For the past few months, the halls of KCS have been dominated by Fortnite dances and play-by-play breakdowns of the previous night’s games. Some of our older students have even talked about the fact that their obsession with the game has had a detrimental effect on their homework, socializing, and sleep. But these types of conversations aren’t just happening upstairs in the Grade 7 and 8 hallway. They’re happening a lot in Grade 4 and 5, and even sometimes in Grade 1. And that’s a real concern.

Most parents and educators (particularly those of us of a certain age) assume that videogames are designed specifically for children, so, therefore, they must be perfectly appropriate for all ages. After all, we played Super Mario when we were little and we turned out alright! It’s just a game, no big deal!

The trouble is, as is the case for the vast majority of games on the market today, Fortnite is not designed for children. I can understand why many people think it is. On the surface it seems totally harmless. It’s full of candy-coloured characters doing silly dances and breaking open llama piñatas. It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. So of course we assume it’s meant for kids.

But at the end of the day, it’s a profoundly violent piece of entertainment. After all, the entire point of the game is that 100 people land on an island, and then 99 of those people get killed. The characters may look adorable, but they are only there to shoot each other in the head. Also, the other 99 people you play against are real people, most of whom have microphones on. So you end up listening to a lot of strangers saying a lot of really toxic stuff. (Take it from someone who has played a few multiplayer games – online gaming chatter is nothing short of a cesspool of sexism, racism, homophobia, and profanity.) Given all this, it’s no surprise that the game industry’s own rating system, the ESRB, gave Fortnite a “Teen” rating, which means it is considered suitable for ages 13 and up.

Now, I recognize that every parent (myself included) has to make choices when it comes to their child’s media diet. Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. I regularly find myself staring down tough choices that seem to have no easy answer. Do I let my twelve-year-old daughter have an Instagram account? Should I let my six-year-old watch a Harry Potter movie? I have spent most of my adult life studying child development, but when it comes to my own kids, I’m usually just making my best guess.

So I’m certainly not intending to come off as judgmental or all-knowing. But I will offer the one piece of advice that I have found works best for me – educate yourself on the media your children are consuming. When my daughters ask for a new game, I take ten minutes and do a little research. My first step is always the ESRB website, where you can get a simple breakdown on the rating given to every game out there. I usually follow this up with a visit to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides detailed reviews and analysis of most games, along with movies, television show, books, and apps (for the record, they also give Fortnite a 13+ rating). Sometimes I go to Metacritic, an aggregate site that pulls reviews from a number of different online sources. If after all that I decide to give the game a shot, I download it and then simply sit down with my kids to watch them play it for a half-hour. If at the end of that time I’m still feeling comfortable with the game, then we’re good to go!

Ultimately, it’s all about making informed choices as a parent. When it comes to videogames, it’s easy to fall into the “it’s just a game” trap. But if you take the time to learn about what your kids are playing, you can help them make good choices when it comes to digital media and gaming. Do your homework, pay attention to what’s on their screens, and engage in regular conversations about what they are playing. Because while parenting isn’t child’s play, their games certainly should be.

The Third School Rule – TRY YOUR BEST

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can impact our lives outside of KCS.

About a year ago my son Brandon suffered a concussion while playing soccer for the varsity team at his university. Over the next number of months, he had to learn to balance his schoolwork, part-time job, and personal life, all while dealing with a number of very challenging symptoms. One day, he came home during his mid-terms and told me that he was really worried he hadn’t done well on one particular exam. Having seen first-hand all the effort he had put into his studies during this difficult time, I only had one thing to say to him. “You tried your best. Given all you’ve been dealing with, there’s nothing more you can do.”

That wasn’t the first time I quoted the “Try Your Best” rule to one of my kids. In fact, it’s probably the rule I repeat the most at home. While I do stress the importance of respect and manners to both my son and daughter, my main priority as a parent is their mental and emotional health. And I believe that “try your best” is a rule that encourages us to strive for success, but with the understanding that we must be realistic when it comes our expectations.

Because the rule doesn’t say “do” your best. It says “try” your best. That’s an important distinction. When we tell ourselves we need to do our best, we put all our focus on the end result and what we actually achieve. But when we tell ourselves we need to try our best, we end up focusing on our effort and personal growth. To put it another way, “do” is all about the product, while “try” is all about the process.

After all, we can try our best, but still end up failing. I know for myself, I can think of countless times when I gave it my all athletically, in the classroom, or as a parent, and still ended up falling short of success. But each time, I was able to look myself in the mirror and say “I tried my best”.  I can also remember those times when I didn’t put in the effort, and the results were what you might expect.

We all fall short from time to time. But what really matters in life is how you behave after that happens. I encourage my own children to try their best, learn from their experiences, and then try again. If I told Alyssa and Brandon to focus on the end results, then I would only be teaching them how to learn from success. But by telling my kids to focus on their effort, I teach them how to learn from failure.

Earlier this year we showed a video at Curriculum Night that was all about independence. Looking back on it, I think in many ways it’s also about trying your best. In that video, a young boy tried, again and again, to jump onto a box. And again and again, that boy failed. Eventually, with support and encouragement from his dad, he ended up making the leap. But I think he learned more from falling down a dozen times then he did from his one success.

As parents and teachers, we can sometimes get caught up in the grades on report cards or the final score of a soccer game. But if we want our kids to become resilient lifelong learners, then we need to encourage them to persist and put forth their best effort, no matter what challenges they are facing. And I can think of no better way to do that than by simply reminding them to always “try your best”.

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