When to Conform and When to Follow the Herd

conformityThe balance of school teeters on the seesaw of conformity versus independence. Up until high school, all we want to do is conform. After we graduate, all we want to do is find our own path. This constant push and pull between independent thinking and social herding is what makes taking a risk to do things our own way that much more challenging. Yes, following the herd is easier and some would say even safer. Deviating from the flock is much more difficult and a little scary because now you have to rely on your own discretion.

In your academic life, then, when is is okay to take a chance and do your own thing? (Click to view our video on this topic)

Let’s look at the example of writing a boring 20 page research paper on a topic you know nothing about and aren’t that interested in. Your teacher has given you specific guidelines, including format, page requirement, due date, and discussion points. There seem to be limited things you have control over. So where is the risk? However, what you do have control over may surprise you: (1) the research you use to evidence your findings, (2) how you structure your analysis, and (3) word choice. Ah ha! Word choice– it’s a bigger deal than you may think, and one that will separate your paper from the “herd”. Sophisticated language, voice, writing for your audience — all these creative elements add up to what makes your writing–your take on a subject matter– unique. Your ability to express yourself in language, both written and verbal, is the foundation of strong communication, convincing arguments, and leadership. If you choose, school can be a place where you go out on that limb and make a bold choice to be different, even in the strictest of circumstances.

The flip side of this argument is laden with the fear of persecution: “Will I get a bad a grade for going against the grain? I can’t afford to fail this class! What if my teacher just doesn’t get it?”. With great risk, comes great reward. With no risk, comes complacency. It is of course up to you, but I encourage my students to take a chance (no matter how small) and write just a little bit differently than the person sitting in the next row. Why? Because school is not meant to be purely academic; there is a life lesson to be learned here too.

So the next time you have a writing assignment that looks as if it will be end of you, remember that even where there seems to be limited creative control you still have the opportunity to embrace the challenge by taking a chance.

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Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

A Little Confidence Goes A Long Way

confidenceIt doesn’t cost any money to teach your kids the value of investing in themselves. What do I mean by that? Confidence. The key word to change. I don’t think I truly found my confidence until I was well into adulthood. Looking back, I passed up a lot of opportunities because I failed to muster up the courage to take the leap, go out on a limb, and try something new.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I traveled the world and learned all kinds of important skills (and life lessons) but there was still this nagging voice inside that said, “Hold on. Wait a second. You need to work a little harder and smarter to get to that next level. You haven’t earned it yet.” The good news about being internally motivated, however, is that I did end up working harder and smarter than my peers in many arenas and was, therefore, able to succeed on a different level. The bad news is that this little voice didn’t ever really stop, even though I had finally achieved my goal.

Confidence is the key that unlocks the magical thing that sets you apart from the rest. When I first meet a student, their confidence is often non-existent. They have failed a test or class, been sent to the principal’s office so many times the secretary knows them by name, or were erroneously labeled and unfairly stigmatized to the point that their confidence is barely hovering above their self-respect. It is then my task to help each of my students and their families pick apart the reasons why they failed the test, were sent to the principal’s office, or were unfairly labeled. By guiding them through this laborious but logical process, the students and their parents slowly begin to realize mistakes made (by themselves and others) along the way. Once we get to the root of these issues, it’s just a matter of time before the student will begin to rebuild their often forgotten self-esteem, self-respect, and confidence.

All the educational books and specialists will tell you the same thing: the core of a well-rounded, prepared, and teachable student is confidence. It’s less about grades and more about taking the time to get to the real issues underneath the anxiety, anger, and angst. I see this time and time again in my Tutoring Practice. A frantic call from a parent over an academic concern leads to the realization that it’s really something more than their son or daughter’s lack of comprehension during the English exam. Making the time to truly listen (without judgment) to your struggling student will reveal a deeper need for internal validation, which can only come from positive praise by the ones they love the most: You!

So take the time to make the time and call me if you’re in need of backup! I’m standing by to assist in your quest to help your child realize their very best.

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Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

Earning Success Through Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work

hardwork There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work. No matter which way you slice it, there’s no magical program or process that will finish your homework or think up the next great idea. These have to come from you.

Generation X, Y, and Z, however, have been labeled entitled, spoiled, and the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation, where hard work is secondary to creativity and inclusion. As we’re finding out, though, we need a healthy dose of both to create success, as an individual and within our society as a whole.

No where is this more apparent than at school, which seems to swing to and from extremes. These days, school is either full of hours of homework a night leaving little if any time for creative outlets or school’s primary focus is making sure there is an inclusive environment where individual creativity is recognized. How to mix these two important factions of our educational system into a rainbow of positive but earned success is the $64,000 question.

Helping children understand the importance of hard work and that earned success doesn’t come easy is a viewpoint I encourage the children and families I work with to incorporate into their parent/child discussions. Here are a few tips on how to help your child develop a strong sense of self while learning the value of earned success:

1. Ask & Answer: Encourage children from a young age to ask the hard questions about themselves and others, and when they do, actively listen and answer with age-appropriate but honest responses. By doing so, you’ll begin to instill in them a love of knowledge and feed their inquisitive nature. Finding out the why of something creates life-long learners.

2. Make Mistakes: Learning from ones mistakes is the foundation of working towards greatness. We can’t expect our children to rise to the level of earned success if they never know the opposite feeling of failure;  failure, contrary to popular belief, is not a bad thing. That word is too often thrown around as a negative, when really it’s just another way of understanding how to get up after you fall. We are all going to fall throughout life and it’s important to begin helping our kids realize you can get back up, with even more gusto!

3. Stick with It: Most new things that we try are difficult at first. The question is: does your child want to keep trying that thing. For example, when I was kid my mom made me play the violin. There were several points where I wanted to quit but she wouldn’t let me. So I stuck with it (albeit, not without protest). 10 years later I was pretty good and even made it into the college orchestra. Now, I never played symphony hall or went on to be a famous musician but I stuck with it. In the face of adversity, we are challenged to take a path that may be more difficult than we anticipated. It may or may not pay off financially but it always be rewarded as a lesson in tenacity.

4. Welcome Challenges & Competition: Competition is healthy when it’s done right. There shouldn’t be any parents yelling from the stands, “Hey, your kid sucks!”, but kids should know where they stand in relation to their peers. We already do this, we just don’t like to talk about it. A prime example– grades. A child who is great in math gets an A; we praise him. The same child gets a C in English; we do not praise him. Grades are our school’s way of measuring a child against his peers, and this theme continues to run throughout higher education and careers. Challenging yourself to move from a C to a B in English is healthy self-competition. We need to encourage a child’s desire to do better and move farther down the path of their own success, one step at a time.

5. Just Do It: Whining, stalling, and making excuses for a child’s inaction is only teaching them how to get out of hard work. When I first started my tutoring business, I placed ads in the local colleges. In addition to the wonderful, hard-working students I took on I got a few calls asking me to write their essays or take their tests for them. My response: No. What I really wanted to say to them: How did you make it this far without doing your own work? Maybe I should ask their parents.

All in all, hard work is not for the faint of heart. It’s not a perfect end-game and we’re not going to know every answer. There will be struggles but struggling can be productive. It’s when we don’t let our kids learn how to get of those jams that we fail to equip them with the tools to learn and earn success through dedication, tenacity, and good old-fashioned hard work.

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Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com