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The Last Page of Your Report Card

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

I remember many years ago, receiving my report card. It was always a great day for me. I was a good student. Honestly, I usually got pretty close to straight As, and a B in gym. I probably deserved a D in that subject, but I did show up and try. I never could climb the rope or do a flex arm hang, and I always hoped to be the first one out when we played dodge ball, so that the misery would be over quickly. But, I digress – report card day was a great day for me. At the end of those elementary report cards were several categories that evaluated students’ social/emotional abilities.

I usually got all “O”s or “Exceeds Expectations” in these categories, as well. I was a rule follower to the max, and these “grades” seemed to note that I was of no trouble to my teacher and got along well with my peers. So basically, I was a goody-two-shoes. Generally, report cards assess what you learned in school, but nothing being assessed in the grid on the last page of my report card was taught to me. It was just who I was.

Skills assessed on a report card should be those students can improve on – meaning they can be taught! But, how do we teach students to listen when others speak, respect others, maintain a positive attitude, accept criticism and have self-confidence (all categories on our 7 year-old report card)? We can’t always assume that these skills will develop on their own. We need to give these skills more thought than the reminder they serve on a poster hanging on the white cinder block walls of our elementary school hallways.

These skills need to be thoughtfully and consistently taught. Why? Well, all of these skills are vital in developing our ability to connect, trust, feel valued, and motivate ourselves and others – skills that are vital to our happiness. These skills fall under the umbrella of empathy (with self and others). At the heart of empathy is understanding – understanding what we are good at, what frustrates us, what makes us feel motivated, and then knowing how to help others understand and act on the same.

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy‘. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” (attributed to John Lennon)

This is all I have ever wanted for my own child – her happiness. Minus doing anything illegal or blatantly immoral, I want her to do what brings her happiness. If you accept the notion that the skills supported through empathy bring happiness, then let’s put some serious time into teaching our children how to do it. Studies show that toddlers as young as two years old show signs of exhibiting empathy, and this steadily rises and dramatically develops in the later teenager years. Beyond modelling empathy, we need to talk about it persistently with children of all ages and attach that conversation to experiences and stories so they can understood in a way that allows us to be intentional in our actions.

What do these conversations look like? Imagine Stephanie, a seven year-old on the soccer field who never gets the ball passed to her (AKA: 7 year-old me). She isn’t naturally inclined on the field and her teammates know it and, frankly, so does Stephanie. She feels like the weak link and on game days, she feels anxious. Of course, the coach should work with Stephanie to improve her skills (after all, the team wants to win, so Stephanie’s lack of skill is an issue) but, in the interim, how can we help her improve her self-empathy and those of her teammates?

Stephanie brings something vital to this group of players, but it isn’t scoring goals. It has to do with how she supports her teammates and her way of cheering on their successes. She is part of the reason they like practice. People need to have fun, feel supported and enjoy their teammates, or the thrill of a win may be short-lived. In fact, teams are more likely to be successful when their teammates enjoy actually being a part of the team. Teams based on empathy experience a kind of joy that extends past the initial win on game day: it’s the kind of joy that allows everyone on the team to share success, whether they’re a star on the field or not. We must teach empathy if we want our children to value their own contributions, along with their teammates’. For Stephanie and her team, does her coach ask the team what they like about practice in hopes of exploring Stephanie’s (and others’) strengths and having them be valued? Has she asked them to think about ways they support each other in practice and off the field? Does she exalt the stories where teammates recognize the needs of others and act on it? These conversations build our confidence, help us remain positive and respect ourselves and others. It helps us to be, not only successful, but happy. It can and should be taught, and frankly, we all need to strive to Exceed Expectations in these categories.

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