kid annoyed with stray hair

As a teacher, I have always spen a significant part of my time chasing after late work, prompting kids to get to work and stay focused on that task. It often feels like being on a treadmill. It can feel much worse for the kids.

There are a lot of reasons why kids don’t always ‘meet their academic responsibilities’; lack of sleep, problems at home, hunger, social-emotional stressors. Today I want to encourage you to read the following article “How Perfectionism Fuels Teen Anxiety” by Katie Hurley.

The term ‘perfectionism’ brings to mind an image of the perfectionist as a highly functional, detail oriented and organized person. This is often far from reality. Most of the students I work with, who are full on or just lean towards perfectionism, come across as not motivated at all. They frequently do not hand in assignments, and certainly not on time when they do. They avoid adults who may prompt or question them. While feeling high levels of frustration and stress, they feel incompetent. Much of this is because they are focussed on the end product and getting it ‘right’ not ‘wrong’, rather than the learning process and how that will help them in the medium and long term.

The Impact of Measuring Outcomes

Really, this isn’t surprising. The Ministry of Education still uses standardized test scores to measure how successful education has been for the students and to measure the success of students themselves. It is easier to measure outcomes than measure the value that the education system is providing, so that may be why governments fall into this trap. When was the last time you heard a government spokesperson touting the merits of learning styles and the value of failure as a learning experience?

The article above deals more with teens, but as an elementary teacher, I see this as being an issue that develops at a much earlier stage of life. The earlier we can intervene, the better we can help our kids develop the skills to manage perfectionist tendencies later in life when we aren’t there with them on a daily basis.

Too busy to read another article?

  • Learning styles – talk to your kids about how they best learn the non-academic things that they enjoy (and for which they do not receive a numeric grade)
  • Self-talk; Model dealing with your own struggles and mistakes. We tend to learn best through mistakes. Messing up helps us understand situations better and ultimately makes us more empathetic and likable.
  • Feedback; when they mess up, focus on what they learned as a result, not just the ‘error’.
  • Challenge the self-talk; is what they are saying to themselves in their heads really true? Is it exaggerated? Ask them how a 79% on a math test in grade 7 will make or break them in the future.

This is a call to teachers…

  • Resist the pressure to grade everything. Your feedback is so much more meaningful.

This is a call to ‘educational officials’…

  • Stop using test scores as your primary benchmark to assess the success of children and teachers. There are so many more factors you are not using to temper the meaning of those scores. Numbers without context create a lot of highly politicized white noise.