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You’ll Never Believe What’s Getting Rewarded in School These Days!

Recently a coaching client, we’ll call her Nancy, shared a story with me that had both our jaws dropping. A few days earlier, Nancy’s middle-school daughter, we’ll call her Jane, came home from school thrilled with a recognition she had received. Nancy, eager to celebrate with Jane, asked what the recognition was for. Jane eagerly reached into her backpack and presented the certificate to Nancy.

It read, “This Certificate of Recognition is for Jane for demonstrating GRIT by spending lunchtime studying for her classes. Keep up the good work.”

Neither Nancy nor I could believe that the school was actually rewarding a 13-year-old girl for skipping lunch. For skipping her break. For skipping her time with friends.

Now, I’m all for rewarding grit, folks, but this ain’t it. Research psychologist Angela Duckworth, from the University of Pennsylvania, defines true grit as the combination of perseverance and passion. But nowhere does that definition say, “at the expense of our wellbeing.” We have no idea what was motivating Jane. It could have been passion in pursuit of long term goals, but it could have just as easily been fear – fear of not being fully prepared for class, fear of getting a B instead of an A, fear of having an awkward conversation at lunch (this is middle school we’re talking about!) or who knows what. And even if Jane’s desire to study during lunch was motivated by her love of learning, is it right for the school, which guides children at this tender age, to be valuing that over self-care? I don’t think so. And neither did Nancy, who coincidentally has been working to improve her own self-care routines!

Now, the school was most likely intending to reward hard work and delayed gratification. But they missed the boat by also sending the message that self-care is incompatible with achievement. When in fact we know that self-care is fundamental to achievement, health and fulfillment.

Fortunately, as is true for everything in life, Nancy recognized this as an important teaching moment and had a series of meaningful conversations with Jane that generated some new strategies Jane can use to manage her time and take healthy breaks. In fact, now both Nancy and Jane are talking regularly about their own self-care routines. And yes – Nancy also expressed her thoughts on the matter to the school.

So dear reader, tell me:

How will you nourish yourself today?

2 thoughts on “You’ll Never Believe What’s Getting Rewarded in School These Days!

  1. Gretchen says:

    As a middle school teacher, I completely agree with you. I feel that more and more schools are becoming so competitive with the amount of work assigned, and I sometimes wonder if I’m contributing to building the next generation of workaholics (a bad habit that I also picked up in school and had to work very hard at un-learning as an adult– and that’s still in process…).

    For my part, if students finish what I’ve assigned in a class, they can have free quiet reading or drawing time. Getting to the end of a “to do” list is really important, and breaks are really, really important. I’m so glad Jane is learning to “take lunch”!

  2. Cheryl Rice says:

    Thanks for being one of the more sensitive teachers, Gretchen!

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