How to Help Your Senior Finish Strong

se·nior·i·tis noun se-nyer-‘i-tis: an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors evidenced by tardiness, absences, and lower grades.

Sound familiar? I know I certainly suffered from senioritis during both high school and college (and my daughter is living it as I write this)!  At this point in the year I was so burnt out on tests and looking ahead to college or my new career,that it was easy to rationalize slacking off at school. But, now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), I look back with a different perspective.

If you have (or are) a high school senior, you know just what I’m talking about. So here are some thoughts about why it’s a good idea to stay the course and finish STRONG. I promise you, you’ll never regret pulling yourself out of your senioritis slump and finishing well. Here’s why:

  1. After graduation and throughout college and career, you will find yourself in situations where long, arduous efforts will make or break your success. A deadline for a huge presentation at work, grad school applications, or a team project for a history class are all examples of situations that require effort and adherence to deadlines. As life goes on, the stakes will only get higher, so it’s important to develop and nurture the discipline of finishing strong NOW.
  2. Success in all areas (career, academics, relationships, sports, etc.) requires planning, practice, and perseverance. Here at LifeSmart, we like to refer to these as “the Three P’s of Success.” In order to apply these P’s to your life, I encourage you to create daily to-do lists and implement daily goal-setting sessions. I guarantee you will see your productivity soar. (And remember, procrastination is a ‘P’ you want to avoid like the plague.)
  3. Good study habits are important throughout your life, not just during high school. Trust me when I say college academics are far more challenging than high school (my 3.8 GPA in high school became a 2.85 in my freshman year of college!). And of course, once you start moving ahead in your career, that doesn’t mean you’ll never study again! Most careers require some continuing education, and you’ll have to study and prepare for presentations, conferences, and portfolio building, and more.
  4. Most college admissions are contingent on the student finishing well! So, too, are academic awards and scholarships!

We’ve all seen painful examples of when people or teams squandered great starts by not finishing strong and incredible finishes from slow starters that eventually won the game. No matter who you were pulling for, the 2017 Super Bowl was the perfect illustration of what can happen when you ease up. Unfortunately, that big lead for the Falcons didn’t matter in the end. Better luck next year!
Current high school seniors are about to enter the most amazing six months of change in their lives. They’ll be saying “hello” to their future with more freedom and responsibility than ever before. Their worlds will become bigger and more exciting, but their plate will also become more full.  Encourage them that this is their time to finish strong and launch their future well. With planning, practice, perseverance, and patience, they’ll knock it out of the park. Their success is there for the taking.
Do you have – or know someone with – a classic case of senioritis?  It’s that time of year! What are some of your ideas for overcoming it and finishing strong?
 

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part One)

teen-at-college

“Don’t prepare the path for the child, prepare the child for the path.” 

~ Author Unknown

Or, as we say at LifeSmart, “Give them wings, not strings.”

Preparing our children for a successful launch into adulthood is one of our greatest parenting responsibilities. And a huge milestone! Unfortunately, as we shared in last week’s blog, many college students are struggling at this pivotal time of life. Our nation’s college completion rankings are plummeting, and we are witnessing a surge in mental health issues on campus.

Parents, we need to take the lead in turning this around. So, for the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing our best tips to help set your teens up for a successful college experience.

  1. Stop the helicoptering! Many collegian issues stem from parents’ efforts to manage their children’s happiness and success. A student’s inability to make decisions, cope with stress and adversity, and understand the world doesn’t revolve around them are predictable outcomes of helicoptering. When we step in to prevent failure, do their homework and applications, defend misbehavior in front of authorities, text them incessantly, and hover and control their lives and decisions, they will struggle on their own.

    As authors of Parenting for the Launch, we encourage parents to adopt an empowering approach that increasingly treats their teens as future adults. That means training them with strong internal guiding principles and giving them freedom, responsibility, and accountability to apply them. Yes, it may result in some short-term pain (e.g., a tough life lesson, failure/disappointment, unhappiness, anger), but it’s for the sake of long-term gain (e.g., resilience, grit, problem solving, coping, independence).     

  2. Foster healthy coping habits. Everyone has their stressors, but, during adolescence, they’re often exacerbated. By nurturing self awareness in our children, they’ll be able to: 1) identify the signs of their anxiety (irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness), 2) isolate the source (tight deadlines, relationship strains, exams), and 3) release their stress in a healthy manner. Together, these can help teens and young adults prevent and/or cope with the pressures of the day.

    Which stress relievers work best? It depends. For some, it’s an intensive cardio workout or blasting music. For others, it’s a bath, a good book, a walk along the beach, or prayer/meditation. Respect whatever works best for them, so long as it’s healthy.

  3. Build positive social adaptability. When it comes to social life, the transitions into and out of college are arguably the most demanding. Our support system of family and friends may seem light years away. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, we devote considerable space to social adaptation. We encourage students to explore affinity groups of others who share common interests and values. To make a list of BFF qualities and quietly evaluate new acquaintances accordingly. To stay patient and selective, knowing it’s all about quality and positivity. Parents, you can instill these valuable habits while they’re under your roof by helping them find opportunities to meet new people in new social settings.

  4. Cultivate strong time management and planning disciplines. With demanding courses, endless activities, newfound freedom, and higher stakes, many students struggle with disorganization, distractions, and last minute cramming—all anxiety boosters. During the high school years, parents need to stress that time is a precious asset to be used wisely. Encourage them to use planners, block their time, build in margin, and create daily to do lists organized by importance and urgency. This is particularly important for the procrastinator, who won’t find it as easy in college. Remember, fun is fine, but the work comes first!   

  5. Apply empowering, but realistic, academic expectations. It’s wise to expect some grade deflation in college as compared to high school. The transition is significant, the competition is greater, and students suffer tremendously when parents expect perfection. Today’s students (both high school and college) often face intense and unrealistic pressure from parents to achieve the highest GPAs. Granted, we should expect our students to do their best, but that doesn’t automatically translate to a 4.0. Oh, and one more thing: encourage your collegian to take a slightly lesser academic load in his/her first semester. It’ll make for a smoother transition.

 

Next week, our last five tips! We’d love to hear yours.

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.

 

Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

Suffering from Senioritis?

 
 

se·nior·i·tis noun se-nyer-‘i-tis: an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors as evidenced by tardiness, absences, and lower grades.
 
Sound familiar? I know at this stage in my senior year I had a bad case of it! We all did. After all, we were on the homestretch, and most of us had made our college or career decisions by now. So, it was pretty easy to rationalize slacking off at school. But, decades later (and hopefully wiser), I can now look back with a different perspective.
 
If you have (or are) a high school senior, you know just what I’m talking about. So here’s a thought about why it’s a good idea to stay the course and finish STRONG.
 
After graduation, students will find themselves in many situations, especially involving college and career, where finishing strong after a long, arduous effort will make or break their success. As life goes on, the stakes will only get higher!
 
Success requires planning, practice, and perseverance. Compare your daily productivity with and without a “to do” list and you’ll see what I mean. Trust me, there is a lot of goal setting in college and career!
 
However, goals can only be achieved through discipline and effort. That’s why if college is the next step, this involves developing great study habits. College academics are much more rigorous and the competition is tougher. My 3.8 high school GPA quickly became a 2.85 in my freshman year of college! It was demoralizing, but eventually I figured it out and would later become Valedictorian of my MBA program. Same brain, different study habits! (ref: chapter 7 in What I Wish I Knew at 18).
 
Seniors are about to enter the most amazing six months of change in their lives. They’ll be saying “Hello” to their future with more freedom and responsibility than ever before. Encourage them that this is their time to finish strong and launch their future well. With planning, practice, perseverance, and patience, they’ll knock it out of the park. It’s there for the taking.
 
Do you have – or know someone with – a classic case of senioritis?  It’s that time of year! What are some of your ideas for overcoming it and finishing strong? Share them with our online community; we’d love to hear from you!
 

Celebrate Your Victories and Learn from Your Defeats

 


This week I had the distinct privilege of visiting an alternative high school that serves the neediest and most challenged of students. My conversation with the principal—a man who has given his life to reach and impact disadvantaged youth and help turn their lives around—left me inspired and encouraged. His stories of the ups and downs of working with that student population reminded me of the introduction to “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” when the narrator would dramatically announce, “…the thrill of VICTORY and the agony of DEFEAT.” Seeing a homeless student from a background of gangs and violence graduate from high school—victory! Seeing another go back to the streets—defeat.


No matter where our life path takes us, each of us experiences both victories and defeats. Whether it’s sports, contests, career, dating, or school, you win some and you lose some. Most of us don’t have too much difficulty with the winning part.


But does the fact that we don’t always win mean we’ve lost? Perhaps, narrowly defined, the answer may be “Yes,” but in most cases the answer is emphatically “No.” Many of our “losses” prepare us for our victories later on—that is, if we choose to learn from our defeats.
           

Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packer fame used to say that winning “is the only thing.” Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, on the other hand, used to simply ask his players to play their best, and that was good enough for him.


I’m probably more in John Wooden’s camp (despite growing up 20 miles from Green Bay!). Winning may be an important goal, but I don’t believe we’re losers if we don’t finish in first place. The key is to learn from a defeat and use it as input for the next practice and for future strategy.
 

Turning a defeat into a victory can be positively transformational. One  example that comes to my mind is a  program I heard of recently in which teen moms reach out to younger girls and share their stories. With unique authenticity and perspective, they can encourage their younger peers to make wise and strategic life choices.  It’s already making a big difference.


Humbly celebrate your victories and see how you can gain from your defeats. It will position you to do better the next time, and it certainly will take some of the sting out of your losses!

 
How have you handled your victories and losses? Do you view a short-term loss as a learning experience to help achieve greater heights in the future? Are you satisfied with the outcome if you did your best?