It’s the end of the first marking period at my school and everyone, students and teachers alike, are working like mad to finish up work. Tonight parents and teachers will convene in the gym for conferences. Much of the dialogue will focus on letters and numbers on that white piece of paper we call a report card.
As a society we are infatuated with numbers. There seems to be an underlying tension that if we can’t quantify something, it loses significance. Since we are a grade conscience, performance driven culture, we tend to focus on our child’s grades, their stats in sports, and the hours spent preparing for arts performances.
Like most of you, I am results-oriented and want my children and students to be the same. However, as you gather with your child’s teachers and talk about their report cards, I want to share two things with you.
First, there was a Gallup poll that measured parent’s focus on children’s grades in multiple countries and cultures. The survey presented parents with a report card. The report card looked like this: English – A, Social Studies –A, Biology – C, Algebra – F. The question was simple. Which grade deserves the most attention from you?
The vast majority of parents in every country focused on the F.
What if we start the conversation with praise? “Wow, you have A’s in both English and Social Studies. I am so proud of you. You are really gifted in the humanities.” I wonder how much more open our children would be to honestly discussing the low grade in algebra after we build them up? The magic ratio is 5:1. If a person hears 5 compliments, then they are more open to the criticism.
The other thing that has been on my mind a lot lately is how do we measure what is really most important?
While we can easily quantify performance in academics, athletics, and the arts, I wonder how much time we spend assessing our child’s character, outside of punishing them for mistakes.
How do we assess spiritual development? At the end of the day is the difference between an A and a B in math more important than our children becoming kind and compassionate citizens?
I hope your answer is no. If so, then take a second to consider how much time we spend discussing grades versus how much time we spend discussing spiritual formation. We cannot afford to outsource the spiritual development of our children to youth groups and Sunday school classes. We need to be involved. In fact, research studies have shown that one of the top indicators of emotional well-being in children is involved parents.
In my Sunday school class, we are working through a book called Experiencing God at Home. The leader presented the parents with a list of questions. One of the questions really grabbed my attention. It listed the fruits of the spirit and asked us to assess these in our children.
We talked about how the fruit of the spirit is the character of Christ – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Me being a teacher, I assigned my wife one child, I took the other and had us rate each characteristic on a scale from 1-6. (In rating things, you want to go with an even number so you can’t pick the middle – it forces you to choose slightly above or slightly below average.)
My wife and I compared our ratings and identified we have one child who is incredibly kind, faithful, gentle, and exhibits self-control, yet lacks true joy. Our other child is a peace maker, full of love, and over-flowing with joy to the point that he can’t stop talking. Bedtime takes forever as he recounts all of his interactions throughout the day. However, my joyful child is the one who lacks self-control. At age 9, I have already decided he probably should not rush a fraternity someday. In fact, he may emerge from my basement with an online degree at age 25.
This exercise helped us see what gifts our children have and which areas we need to help them develop. Just like in the Gallup poll about grades, the natural tendency for me is to put together an action plan to help our oldest child develop joy and our youngest, self-control. However, the more we focus on their strengths, the more they will be open to improving deficits.
As you open your child’s report card, look first at their strengths, and praise them.
Also, consider creating a spiritual report card for your child this weekend. Regardless of what criteria you use, such as the fruits of the spirit we used in our exercise, remember that the spiritual development of our children starts at home. At the end of the day, aren’t your child’s character traits more important than letter grades? Yes, we can push for excellence in both areas, but let’s try to give as much attention to our child’s spiritual formation at home as we do to their intellectual development at school.
I’m certainly glad I am being judged today on my character and not my high school chemistry grade.