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Set Your Kids Up for Failure: How to Reset Those Expectations and Create Resilient Learners

Sep 27, 2018

This is a love note to all my fellow homeschool moms out there. It may come across as harsh or judgmental, but I hope you will at least consider the message. It’s a lesson that was so difficult for me to learn, and now that my kids are older and in college, I can see that it was an important one.

Do you remember when your kids were learning to walk or eat or skip or talk? Remember all those little mistakes? Scraped knees, hurt feelings, food from ear to ear? Think back to your response to those instances. You probably picked your kid up, cleaned her up, wiped away some tears, and encouraged her to keep trying. You didn’t rail or get upset. You knew victory was coming.

Fast forward to junior high and high school. Think about the outside classes when a grade didn’t reflect what you thought your student’s efforts merited. Remember when the coach didn’t let your kid play the last 30 seconds of the game with your team ahead. Recall when your son or daughter didn’t receive a merit rating or first chair or lead role?

What happened to our trust that a little adversity would produce a good result in the end? And by using that word our, I am including myself in that group (and maybe in those little examples above too!).

Moms, we must learn to let our students experience disappointment, even failure, and to receive criticism, critiques, and rejection. They need the lessons of perseverance and determination more than they need escape or release. Although I could write about extra-curricular activities, in this blog post I’ll focus on what I think is of critical importance: failing or flailing in academic endeavors.

There has been much written about snowflakes, helicopter or lawnmower parents, and the general increase in teen anxiety, depression, and suicide. (Here is just one overview article.) As both a parent of students who have graduated homeschool and a teacher of homeschoolers for almost twenty years, I offer these five rules for producing students who are independent and resilient learners:

RULE #1: Let Go!

RULE #2: Trust Your Teachers and Their Process

RULE #3: Everything Isn’t an A

RULE #4: Model Optimism and Communication Skills

RULE #5: Remember Who’s in Charge


RULE #1: Let Go!

Resilient LearnersI cannot stress how important it is for you, sweet mom, to let go. You are not completely responsible for your child’s education. It may seem that way, but the old adage that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink is true. “Learners learn” as Maryellen Weimer points out in this article. Ultimately the best teachers, the best lesson plans, the best parental support, the best tools are not enough for learning to occur. The sooner your student begins to take responsibility for his or her education is the sooner your student will truly begin learning. This means allowing your student to participate in course decisions, scheduling homework, and managing deadlines. Yes, your student may make some mistakes. Assignments may be missed and tests failed, but let the student learn from that mistake.

RULE #2: Trust Your Teachers and Their Process

Resilient LearnersIf you’ve done your research on online classes and organizations and their faculties, you can have confidence that the instructors know the processes, tools, and techniques to get your student from point A to point B. Teachers have experience in dealing with many different types of learners and a host of issues. Allow your teacher to sow into your student’s life. True growth is painful. Since a course of instruction is not a one-time shot, it is important to sit under the tutelage. Trust that your teacher is not intent on harming your student, but he provides feedback and evaluation to spur and cultivate growth.

RULE #3: Everything Isn’t an A

Resilient LearnersMany homeschool students, and I include my own children in this categorization, don’t have an appreciation for the numbers game of grading. I really enjoyed teaching my own children and not worrying about grades. We worked until we understood the concept, until we likely had an A understanding. As they grew older and I farmed out courses to subject masters, we had to learn (and are still learning) how to manage grades and how to have an appropriate view of them.

My own children really struggled with receiving Bs, Cs, and even below that. They still struggle.

I want to shout this from the mountaintops: “There is nothing wrong with a B, a C, or even grades below that.”

These are just grades. They are measurement tools. They show what needs to be improved, what needs to be learned. They may show that students need to study more or balance workload better. It is only a tool. They are not indicators of intelligence. They are not a value judgement of a student’s worth or merit.

Moms, you can also show your student that grades are something to learn to manage. Students need to learn about averages, about category percentages, and about asking for extra credit. They absolutely must learn and come to know in their heart that grades do not equal worth.

RULE #4: Model Optimism and Communication Skills

Resilient LearnersWhen parents outsource to other instructors, a wonderful thing occurs. This is my FAVORITE thing about farming out instruction. Homeschool mom, you undergo a metamorphosis. It’s a true state change. You go from teacher to coach.

What’s the difference? Well, you are now in a position to provide influence and encouragement. You become an advocate instead of an enforcer.

This new position provides you with opportunities to model optimism and steely determination. This is such an important skill set for your student to learn, and you have the privilege of helping your student learn it! When your student receives disappointing feedback or a poor grade, it is important to stay serene, cool, and unflappable. You likely know that grades are just that: grades. Your reaction to the news is what will set the tone for how your student learns to cope with disappointment. If you stay unphased, your student will also learn to stay calm. She will learn to seek solutions rather than panic. And in a nation in which students are more anxious and depressed than ever in history, this is a HUGE for mental health.

Point your student to God. God knows all, and he has ordered these steps, and he knows this situation. Your student can rest in him.

The logical next step is for your student to learn communication skills and how to bounce back from a setback. You could encourage your student to write to the teacher. In many cases parents want to write to the teacher. It’s useful to have your student learn how to express concern, ask questions, and seek solutions. Teachers want to help students grow. They also must hold students accountable for learning and provide accurate feedback to the student. Help your student learn to take her own education in hand by learning how to bounce back. Students do rebound and end up learning when they sit in that learning process.

RULE #5: Remember Who’s in Charge

Resilient LearnersAs mentioned previously, the Lord is on his throne, and he remains in control; yet, don’t forget, moms, you are still in charge of the homeschool transcript. As long as your student is not dual enrolled or has an umbrella reporting requirement, you are still in charge; therefore, you need not fear a bad grade.

If your student is struggling, really struggling, then feel free to remove the pressure. You can audit classes, you can do some assignments and not all, you can even IGNORE the gradebook.

Often teachers are under requirements or agreements for how to grade; they may have to remain consistent and award zeroes for unsubmitted work. That does not mean that YOU are under any requirement to do so. Your transcript is your transcript.

Moms, it’s important to stay calm and keep all things in perspective. Allowing some failure in life is a good thing. In fact, it may be one of the most important circumstances your student may experience. After all, the oak tree grows stronger through the wind and storms of its life. Your student is no different.

Jodi Guerra is an Instructor and Coordinator with Excelsior Classes, a consortium of online teachers dedicated to excellence in online instruction. She has been involved in the education of children and adults serving in public schools, private schools, and corporate America. For the last twenty years, Jodi has worked with homeschool students in private classes, tutoring situations, and in the virtual world of online education. She seeks to make every learning situation fun yet productive. Besides teaching, Jodi loves to read and finds both cooking and sewing to be creative expressions.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.