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What will we talk about (if we don't talk about grades)?

A Shift in Focus

When I speak to parent groups about the remarkable value of shifting from a narrow focus on doing well to a broad focus on leading well and being well, one of the common questions I hear is "If we're not talking about grades and test scores and goals scored, what will we talk about?"

The questions posed in this chart can prove to be invaluable in talking with your kids/ students. Now, more than ever.

For parents, the discussion prompted by these questions can become an important part of a dinnertime or end of day routine, a way to reflect on the events and learning of the day, to process and make sense of what went as planned and what didn't, and to consider and set intentions for the next day. For teachers, the discussion topics can become an important part of a SEL session or an end of class reflection.

"What did you do today that you were proud of?"

When my son, Jack was in the 6th grade, he played on a sports team with a number of boys he didn’t know well. During an overnight stay at an away tournament, we hosted his teammate, Chris, whose parents didn’t make the trip. He was a good player, confident, and popular. He was a boy Jack didn’t know well.

As they were getting ready for bed, I could see Jack was apprehensive about what Chris might think about the reflection part of our end-of-day routine. So I proceeded casually, letting Chris know that we liked to recap our day at bedtime - reflecting on the highs, the lows, what we did that we were proud of, and what we would do differently tomorrow - if we had the chance to do it over again. I asked him if he’d like to do it with us.

He said yes and answered thoughtfully along with Jack, until I got to the question about what they did that they were proud of. Jack answered, sharing that he felt good about being a good team player, sharing the ball, encouraging his teammates. But Chris was quiet, thinking through the day. After a minute, with his head down, he shared that he didn’t do anything that he was proud of that day. Nor had he done anything the day before. No one had ever asked him that question before. In the next breath, he asked if I would ask him again the next day. He was planning, he said, all the things he would do that he would be proud of so he could share them with me at the end of the day.

Back from the tournament, I called him at home the next night, and he shared his list of things with me - including being a good team player. It was a moving experience for us both. And it was instructive for Jack. He became aware that some of the kids who seemed the least likely to care about caring may be the ones who didn't know how.

Over the years, Chris shared a number of things with me that he was proud of – mostly about being kind and inclusive. That question that first night, he told me, had changed the way he saw and felt about himself and about the impact he had on others.

Creating the Space to Connect

Whether in person or on Zoom, we each have the opportunity every day in every interaction to champion the need kids/students have to be seen and heard. The research is compelling - in universities and in our families and classrooms - that these interactions make a profoundly positive immediate and sustainable impact.

Let's create space for kids to explore and connect to who they are and that they matter. These questions, embedded into your daily routines, create the discussions that do just that.

Thanks to David McLean of Lambton College, for sharing these @sitwithit questions on LinkedIn.


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