I got straight As all through school, and my parents didn’t care about the grades. Well, to say they didn’t care might be a bit harsh. They were absolutely proud of me and my academic accomplishments, but they never pushed me to get As, and they did not see the letter grade as the important part of my report card.
Whenever my parents opened my reports, they immediately flipped to the effort section. Before seeing the results of my efforts, they wanted to see how hard I had tried. They stressed with me that they would be prouder of a C I had tried my best to earn than an A that I had not given my all to achieve.
This lesson stuck with me. I put a great deal of pressure on myself to get good grades but felt none of that pressure from my parents. Work ethic was the important thing. I was growing up that my best efforts did result in high grades, but the value of effort before results instilled in me from a young age would come full circle.
My oldest son is not a straight-A student. He isn’t an A student at all. He is a smart kid, but he is a very average student. Growing up pushing myself to get straight As, I always worried that if I had a kid who was not as academically focused as I was, I would project onto them. A “B” in a report card would have driven me insane in high school, and I worried that I would be disappointed seeing one on my own child’s report card.
As it turns out, my parents did an amazing job of teaching me the importance of effort before grades. Despite my inability to apply it to myself, it was easy to view my child through that lens. The grades are Bs and Cs, but did he work hard to earn them?
Sometimes the answer is no. At first, this was complicated by undiagnosed ADHD. It could be hard to ascertain whether he was lacking effort or focus. The blurry lines have become much more clear following his diagnosis and starting treatment. And the answer is still sometimes no. Sometimes, my kid phones it in, which is hard for someone who was so academically driven to accept.
When this happens, the discussion is automatically more productive than if it were centered on the grade. “I can see you are not trying your hardest here” is something a child can work on. It is in their power to change. It gives them an opportunity to discuss why they aren’t giving it their all. Is there a roadblock, or have they just been slacking off? Either way, together, you can work on making changes.
If you look at a grade in a vacuum, it can be harder to address. If a B or a C is the result of their best effort, and they are told it isn’t good enough, then the message sent to them can be that their best is not good enough. They are not good enough. When we see a B or a C accompanied by an excellent effort, we celebrate it. I don’t care that my child does not excel in every subject, I only care that he is trying to.
And a funny thing happens when we take the pressure off grades and instead on the effort. The grades start to come. Instead of becoming defeatist and giving up trying to get As they think they can never achieve anyway, they focus on giving the work their everything, regardless of what the outcome is. When that happens, they learn more, they improve their skills, and the grades begin to reflect that.
My straight B and C kid is now starting to earn As. I still don’t value them nearly as much as the effort, but I see them as a positive sign that our effort first approach is having a positive impact on his learning and achievement. We look at the As the same way we do the Cs that have been earned to the best of his abilities, but we are able to show him that his hard work is building his skills and understanding.
It can be hard to ignore the grades and focus on the effort. It can be hard to look at a C and praise it with gusto. But it is worth it.
“I see that you tried your best and really gave it your all. I’m proud of you,” are some of the most impactful words a child can hear.