The blogging space of the Burlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent
Author: Patrick Larkin
I feel blessed to be an educator. I have had the good fortune of working as an English teacher, an Assistant Principal, a Principal and an Assistant Superintendent. I currently serve as the Assistant Superintendent of Burlington Public Schools (MA).
With the May 1 deadline looming for many families ( and mine) in regards to making the initial deposit at the school that their senior will attend, I find myself revisiting a couple of opinions I have read on the subject of choosing a college. The most recent is a piece by William Stixrud, titled It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College, that appeared in Time back in March. My key take away from Stixrud’s piece is the following:
“Children are much more energized when they envision a future that is in line with their own values than when they dutifully do whatever they believe they have to do to live up to their parents’ or teachers’ or college admissions boards’ expectations. We don’t inspire our kids through fear. We inspire them by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than being the best, and by encouraging them to immerse themselves in something they love.”
The point here is that immersion into an area of study can be accomplished at many universities and not just the most well-known or expensive schools. Stixrud also cites Pew Research that reinforces the point that an elite private university will not ensure higher income or job satisfaction.
“You’re going to get into a college that’s more than able to provide a superb education to anyone who insists on one and who takes firm charge of his or her time there.”
“It’s not where you went to school. It’s how hard you work.”
As the clock ticks on towards the imminent decision for my child, I am going to rework the following letter from Bruni’s book. It sums up my feelings perfectly and the pride I feel for what my daughter has accomplished thus far. It is so much easier to have perspective some 30-plus years after making this type of decision. The journey is just beginning for her…
On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted—and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.
If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them. We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again—and to wherever you are headed.
So my youngest child recently turned 12 and all she wanted for her birthday was an iPhone. Did you know she was the only student in her school of over 1,300 students without her own cellphone? Well, at least that’s how she described the dire situation.
Hyperbole aside, I knew that this day was on the horizon and that I would have to give in to this request sooner or later. She had gotten by for the first half of her initial year in middle school without a phone and had proven herself to be responsible in her use of her iPad while she was at home. During this time, I got to see all of her incoming and outgoing texts to monitor who and what was being discussed. Most of her limited online time was spent on Instagram or texting a small circle of friends. Since her older brother’s recent college break, she has added Fortnite to her online time.
However, my main reason for giving in was to provide her with a phone that would be able to connect her with us when she was after school for extra help, walking home from the bus stop, or at a friend’s house. It does provide peace of mind knowing that your child can get in touch if needed. Of course, this is offset by the additional worries that come with giving your 12-year old a web-enabled device that has access to countless apps and social media platforms.
Now that we are over 10 years into the iPhone era, there are a lot more tools available to assist parents in supporting their children with both responsible and balanced use of their new device. One of the first things I did was create an Apple ID for my daughter which is linked to my account through family sharing. This allows me to approve any apps that she wants to add to her iPhone. There are a number of other restrictions that you can add for your child, depending on your comfort level with online games and playing online games with friends and/or strangers.
The more important part from my standpoint is to have conversations with your child and set up agreed upon parameters for when and how much time should be allowed daily for online games, apps like instagram, texting and chatting with friends. The whole cell phone dilemma with kids can be overwhelming to navigate for parents due to the fact that we really don’t have any firsthand experience from our past to draw upon. I strongly suggest taking a look at Common Sense Media’s Cell Phone Parenting resources. They have a great list of basic rules to review with your child to help you feel more at ease.
One neat trick to check in on what your child is up to is to go into the settings and click on the battery usage. (See above) When you click on the battery icon, you will see all of the apps used over the last 7 days and you can click on any of them to see how many hours they have been used over both the last week and the last 24 hours. Looking at this data is helpful to have conversations about constructive online time and balance.
While there is no perfect way to start the cell phone journey with your child, it is a lot easier to start with some concrete expectations and discussions around the importance of balance and digital awareness. It can be a great learning opportunity for both parent and child.
In a previous post, I touched upon the negative impact that schools overly focused on grades can have on our kids. Students who just work as hard as it takes to get an A sometimes leave high school without any real experiences with overcoming obstacles, extending themselves, and really working hard. This was not meant as a criticism of individual schools or teachers, but really a commentary on the way most schools assess students.
However, the strengthening of grit, resilience, or whatever synonym you choose to describe this quality in which our kids overcome struggles to gain the experience and confidence that will help them deal with future struggles, needs reinforcement on the homefront as well. As parents, how can we do a better job helping our kids build their capacity to deal with the obstacles that are sure to come their way?
My number one recommendation would be for parents to help their children improve their self-reflection skills. Take some time before you react to a situation where your child is struggling or failing at something, especially if there is a lot of emotion involved. From personal experience, I know this can be hard…
One of the areas I often see parents potentially hurting the grit of their students is in at youth sporting events. Whether it is blaming the referee or questioning the coach, the underlying message is that it was someone else’s fault that the team did not win. This behavior leads to a lack of self-reflection and in turn a focus on areas that could be improved upon. This is true whether it is a failure in sports, school, the workplace, a relationship, etc.
Ultimately, we need to help our children see the bigger picture with situations that don’t go as well as they hoped. After they have some time to process the disappointment, we need to encourage them to reflect honestly on their own performance and if there is anything that they could have done differently. We need to help them avoid a default reaction that blames people or things that they do not have control over. Our inclination to cushion the blow when our kids come up short may be appropriate in some instances, but if it is our default reaction then we are doing our kids a huge disservice.
I was thrilled to accompany the Memorial third graders on their annual field trip to Lowell Mills yesterday. I had a great time learning about the history of the textile mills that operated along the Merrimack River canal.
We had an opportunity to learn about the construction of the mills and the development of the surrounding area in the early 19th Century. In addition, we got to see the different roles that men and women would have had both on the farm and at the mills. It was a definite eye-opener to see the relentless schedule of the Lowell Mills Girs who stayed 5 or 6 to a small room and worked from morning until night with few breaks.
Finally, we ended our visit with a firsthand experience picking cotton seeds out of cotton. After spending some time developing their own tools to pick out the seeds, they all got a chance to spin the wheel on the Cotton Gin.
The students in Mrs. Kippenberger’s and Mrs. Ferullo’s classes were a joy to spend the day with. Thanks again for the invitation!
Back in December, I read Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron. While the book centers on training athletes, a number of the insights that Bergeron shares are relevant to personal improvement. Bergeron also has a regular podcast that you can follow on YouTube or iTunes which digs into some of the topics covered in the book.
In the most recent episode of the podcast, the discussion centered around grit and how we can build resilience. Bergeron shared a story of his brother who earned high marks in school without much effort and discussed how this lack of a challenge does not prepare someone for some of the obstacles that are certain to come in the future.
The quote below is the one that stuck with me.
“People who thrive without a lot of effort sometimes struggle when they hit the wall if they have not learned how to work through struggles and show grit.”
I have a child who had an experience similar to Ben’s brother and earned high marks through high school without extending himself. He was routinely on the high honor roll by working for the A and nothing more. Unfortunately, in some cases, this required very little effort and in most cases, his studies did not lead to any deep learning. We need to work harder in schools to make learning about something more than grades.
I have another child who has also achieved high honors throughout her career by spending a much greater amount of time at her studies. Her results have been very similar, but the effort she has put in is markedly different. Listening to the podcast on grit, I couldn’t help wondering which child would be more adept at handling challenges moving forward.
How can we do a better job in rewarding the effort and not just the results?
Listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast recently, Tim talked the fact that he schedules a trip with his siblings and parents once a year to ensure that there is quality time each year that he can count on with them. This made me think of my life with a couple of kids in college and another on the way next year. While it is certainly joyful to have kids head off to the next phase of their lives, these events also bring the bittersweet realization that the majority of our time together has come to an end.
The line that stuck out to me was the following one from Urban’s post:
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
The image below from the post also puts things in perspective in regards to the percentage of time we have with our children during their lifetime.
As we are early on in a New Year, a point where many people try to look at their routines and behaviors in order to have a more meaningful 2018 and beyond, I think it is a good time to consider this. I struggle to think of situations that should take precedence over meaningful time with family. So as you tweak your routines and priorities, I hope that you are able to consistently keep time with your loved ones at the top of your list.