Thank you for meeting with us today to discuss your child’s progress at the midpoint of the year. It is an important check-in and helps keep parents, teachers, and students (!) on the same page. Lots to celebrate. Lots to work on. Lots to aim for. In short – just like every student of every age, the path of self-improvement continues.
This means that kids will receive what was known in my day as “constructive criticism”. We tend to use the expression “feedback” today, but that is only because the word criticism has gotten a bit of a bad rap. Properly understood, criticism is really only the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a type of work. When it comes to students – even the most high achieving ones – the only true path to self-improvement will come through such “feedback”.
Sometimes, in the process of receiving feedback, children can start to “beat themselves up” a bit. We see this on occasion. While all kids say bad stuff about themselves from time to time, it’s when their inner voice keeps saying bad things that it can have a negative effect on them. We need to watch for this and make sure to set the goals, challenges, and expectations just right – just enough to inspire without being too far out of reach.
Children who expect a lot of themselves may also be prone to negative self-talk at times. They may say bad things about themselves before someone else does it. When this begins to happen, we need to take a page from the ancient Stoics. Stoicism appeared in Ancient Greece and was championed by prominent figures from all walks of life such as Epictetus, a former Roman slave; Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor; and Seneca, a Roman statesman who controlled enough wealth to qualify as the first billionaire in history!
While an in-depth examination of stoicism is too heavy for a Friday in January (!), these ancient philosophers did have some good advice when it came to human flourishing. Some of their teachings are also good for our students. First among them is – avoid negative self-talk and putting yourself down to others. A self-deprecating tone can sometimes be fun, but children need to understand that setbacks and challenges are part of life and often outside of their control and that should not be too hard on themselves. We want our kids to learn the skill of assessing situations rationally and carefully and prioritizing the best course of action to meet those challenges head-on without developing a defeatist attitude.
Positive thinkers and Stoics share a lot in common. The Stoics remind us to accept situations, (…despite the fact that they may require more work to adjust to them!); and to learn to live in harmony with others, while accepting realities beyond our control.
As we help our children accept constructive feedback (…without giving up or giving in), let’s encourage them to develop a bit of a “stoic” attitude. In the end, it might help them learn from their mistakes, cultivate the right attitude toward school, and set realistic goals for the future.
In the words of Epictetus, the Stoic, let’s remind our students and children that – “No great thing is created suddenly”.
Isn’t that why they’re in school in the first place? They are each a work in progress.
Ric Anderson, Head of School