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Race to the Finish

Suggestions on how to motivate your kids through the last leg of school before summer break.

I will let you in on a little secret; checking PowerSchool five times a day does not make the numbers go up any more than getting on the scale every hour will make the numbers go down. 

To lose weight you just have to motivate yourself.  To improve grades you have to motivate your kids, which is infinitely more difficult. I would trade places with Bob Harper any day of the week. 

I spent this past week trying to light fires under my students, who seem to think the school year will wait until they finish all their assignments and research papers, while simultaneously talking parents off the ledge. 

This happens every year at about this time.  It’s the pre-finals slump; right after research papers are due and before hard core studying for final
examinations begin. Throw in all the end of year activities, such as concerts, sports banquets, art shows and more-mixed with beautiful weather and you have students who have literally checked out. 

So how can you motivate your kid to buckle down for the sprint to the finish line? 

  • Rewards-I call it positive behavior modification-you may call it bribery-but whatever you call it, it works.  What does your kid really want to do this weekend?  Go to a movie?  Play ultimate Frisbee? Go
    shopping for summer clothing? Great! They can go as soon as they are done their calculus homework and that final English paper.
  • Positive Reinforcement-This is hard, especially if there isn’t much positive going on.  But, if they are working hard, say something like, “You are doing a great job on that Powerpoint!” Then stop yourself from adding, “If you did this all the time you would have an A!” Nobody appreciates a back-handed compliment. 
  • Don Not Compare-Comparing your kid to siblings or friends that are spectacular students will make him or her feel like a spectacular failure, and will not motivate improvement.
  • No Electronics- Cell phones, Facebook, etc., are a procrastinator’s dream (I played Scrabble for an hour before I got down to writing).  However, in my opinion, wearing headphones and listening to music while working is okay as long as it’s not of the head-banging variety.  It seems to help focus and reduce distractions.
  • Look at the Big Picture-Right now the amount of time left seems endless.  Kids need visuals, so get a monthly calendar and put a big star or smiley face on the last day of school or finals.  Cross off days, so it is clear how much time is left. If they had a really productive day, put a sticker on it, and don’t think they are too old-everyone loves stickers.

As for parents, keep calm and resist the urge to ground them until they graduate from med school.

About this column: Sue Schaefer is a certified teacher and Academic Coach. Submit your education questions to Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com, visit her website at www.academiccoachingct.com and follow her on Twitter at sueschaefer1. Sue, a former Buffalo Grove resident, is an Illinois state certified teacher who received her Master of Arts in Teaching at National-Louis University. She taught in District 21 for six years before leaving the windy city suburbs and beginning her career as an Academic Coach in Connecticut. She spends her time exactly the same way she did in Buffalo Grove, watching her teenage sons play ice hockey.

Dr. Mark Solomon May 27, 2012 at 05:37 PM
I always reminded myself of the power and coolness of a great closer in a horse race or track event event - The last few weeks before finals were the final quarter mile - time to make your last all consuming push. Everybody loves a wicked good closer.
Susan Schaefer May 29, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Great analogy Mark!

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