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Book Study: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey



Book Study: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

A group of parents and I participated in the book study over the past six weeks.  We have engaged in excellent discussions, shared many stories, and supported one another in a shift to autonomy-supported parenting.  I thought this might be a good time to share some guidelines (taken from the book) to consider as you look at first quarter grades and your child’s performance:

  • Wait a day before emailing a teacher over a perceived emergency or crisis. While low grades on school work/tests or disciplinary actions may feel like crises in the moment, if you wait a day, you may realize that they are not.  Besides, as you should be moving your child toward a greater responsibility for discussing issues with her teachers, these twenty-four hours give you a perfect interval to develop a game plan with your child.
  • Express interest in what is being taught. Once you know a little bit about what’s going on at school, you can open the door to conversations about that material and how it relates to the greater world.
  • Find opportunities to express gratitude. Teachers receive daily complaints, but it’s rare to hear feedback about the successes. Write a thank you note.  In order to feel connected, we all need to feel appreciated, and our children should learn how to convey appreciation from a young age.
  • Protect your child’s right to fail. Give her the time and space she needs to be disappointed in herself.  Finally, encourage her perseverance as she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and learns from experience that she is capable of rebounding from those failures.
  • Give your child a voice. As social interactions get more complex with age and maturity, teachers will expect students’ ability to communicate to improve along with their ability to reason and think critically. When your child is dissatisfied with something that has happened at school, whether she is upset about a grade or feels a teacher has acted unfairly, the student should always be encouraged to speak with the teacher directly.
  • Remember that truth often lies between two perceptions. Remember, your child’s perception of what is happening at school is her perception.  Truth is subject to human frailty and flaws in perception, and this applies to even the most trustworthy and honest children.  If you approach your child’s teacher or another parent with the assertion that your child is completely free of fault, you are going to lose credibility before you’ve even begun to advocate for your child.  Keep an open mind and hope others will do the same.
  • If you are concerned with a teacher’s actions, talk to that teacher. This shows respect and models to your child that you are supporting the teacher.  Make an appointment to talk with the teacher sooner, rather than later, because as time passes, resentments mount, details fall away in memory, and the opportunity to make things right is lost.
  • The best time to conduct a parent-teacher meeting is at a scheduled meeting. The teacher may look available first thing in the morning, but she’s not.  The first and last moments of the day are often the most hectic for teachers, and to have an informed conversation about a student, teachers need time to mentally prepare. And for the record, cocktail parties, the produce section of the grocery store, and the doctor’s office are not appropriate places to initiate impromptu parent-teacher conferences.
  • Support the student-teacher partnership, even when it’s challenging.  The relationships children forge with their teachers can become some of the most important of their lives.  Over the course of a child’s education, he is going to have many teachers. Some will be great, some with be adequate, and some may fall short, and your child is going to have to learn to deal with all of them.

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