How To Motivate Lifelong Learning And Readiness For College

making homework time sweetOK so maybe it’s gotten just a little debatable whether or not a college education is necessary in this post-modern economy.

But its still universally accepted that massive and rapid learning in general is totally necessary for success in life. Even if your children don’t get it in (or through) the walls of college classrooms, they’ll have to get it somewhere.

So far, I’m not hearing anyone challenge the need for elementary and secondary schooling, even if it’s done at home. That’s probably not going to change anytime soon either.

So even though my own kids have already flown the coop, I can still relate to how it feels while trying to guide your children through school. Alarm bells would go off if grades slip, or when something happens that threaten your child’s feeling of security or safety in school, or when they lose focus for some reason.

It can be a jungle out there in kiddy-world. Click To Tweet

And when your child doesn’t seem to care, or doesn’t see the big picture…won’t get on the same page with you, I can relate to that rising sense of  urgency to get that all-important message across. Especially if you know deep down that if you fight this fight the wrong way, it can flip on you and go in all the wrong directions.

I can recall in vivid detail, the many-flavored conversations during those countless hours of glorified chauffeur-duty.  For me, homework wasn’t a problem. Getting projects completed on time was. So was the need to teach my children how to juggle demanding extracurricular activities with school work, and making the hard choice to drop that ballet, piano or athletics training when it started to interfere with grades. That may not be your experience. Each parent has a different set of challenges.

It’s because we know how big a deal it is for children and teens to do their utmost best in school, develop a healthy work ethic, and a strong set of values to live by. If their grades are not good, or even if they’re OK but you know they can do much better, you have to come up with a strategy to get them to make some changes. And you have to do so without allowing their self-esteem to take a hit.

Like maneuvering through a mine-field, isn’t it?

A Future Without the Right Education

I’ve met very few parents without the mindset that says, “My thing is to make sure my children have a better life than I did.”  You’ll even hear that from parents who love their lives. In fact there’s a good chance you’re one of those yourself.

But we’re always aware there is more… that your child can have more and be more. And the role of education in all that is no small thing.

Like the rest of the human experience, education is not a black and white issue either. There are such things as too little, not enough, the wrong focus, the wrong fit for the child or teen at the wrong time. And that isn’t even taking into consideration the thousand and one variables that can impact a child’s life every moment on the playground, school bus or neighborhood.

There’s the kid who always believed she was just dumb when it comes to mathematics. Then a special teacher opens up a whole new world. The next thing she knows, Math is her strongest subject just before it’s time for high school. Stories like that happen every day in homes around the globe. Makes you wonder how many other stories in how many other homes are happening, where that teacher didn’t  show up at just the right time.

There’s the newlywed father of a toddler who is excited to discover at the age of thirty-four that he has a knack for business, makes a success of himself, then reveals that his one regret is that he didn’t go further in school, because he sees where it would have given him a competitive advantage to go much further much sooner. Stories like that abound too, despite all you hear about college being optional in the new economy.

Of course, there are the disaster stories as well. School drop-outs, drug use, teenage pregnancy don’t always end up in tragedy, but many of them do.

Some people have raw talent in areas that still need highly structured skill-building for many years. The Ben Carsons and Gaby Douglasses of this world are examples of folks who were lucky enough to have a parent or some other influential person create the right environment to allow them to slowly develop their innate abilities.

Yet again, common sense should tell us that for every Ben Carson and his “Gifted Hands,” there’s probably another eight or nine other kids with hidden abilities which never saw the light of day.

Can your child be one of them? What are the chances?

Of course, I can’t honestly offer the answer to that question. But I believe that every person was brought into this world with a special ability. Sometimes it’s a very obvious one that’s highly marketable. Other times, its just as obvious but hard to see how it can be honed into something useful for humanity. What I can say is that as a parent, you need to be very aware. Talent by itself is rarely developed to full capacity without deliberate, persistent attention. It also takes creation of a safe, stimulating environment,  the proper people and the proper resources.

So what does this have to do with learning and success in school?

Proper environment, proper people and proper resources. But there is a very common misconception out there that students who start to falter only need to beef up on their study skills.

After working for years with school children, teens and their parents, I can tell you it’s not that simple. Study skills is just one part. Proof of this still surfaces very often in schools that have a very robust “learning how to learn” program. Such schools still see their fair share of children who falter, lose focus, and under-perform.

There’s another part you’ll only hear if you’re a fly on the wall where a group of teachers are talking in confidence and therefore don’t have the pressure of having to be politically correct.

That’s the discussion I now want to share with you. It impacts every child in every home, including yours.  It has dire consequences for their school-lives and throughout adulthood.

The Need for Student Motivation

The discussion has to do with children who show up in the classroom but don’t seem to be that interested in the main product the school has to offer. For some, it’s an on-again, off-again pattern. For others it starts off as a mild problem, then gets chronically worse. Yet for others, it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, but you will hear more than one teacher say about the same child, “She’s doing enough to get by, but is capable of doing so much more, she shouldn’t even be at this level.”

Maybe it’s just me but that latter case is  as sad as any.  Makes me wonder how many Barrack Obamas grow up right there in Kingston, Brooklyn or East L.A (or Kenya) but won’t reach nearly as far.

Study skills may or may not be part of the problem. More often than not however, the discussion around that child among her teachers surrounds what they used to call parental involvement.  Nowadays, educators refer to it as family engagement. More on that next week.

And let me warn you. this is where a disconnect exists throughout most of our school systems. It’s not widely spoken about. That’s the reason why I’m bringing it up. I hope this is just the seed.

There are misconceptions, partial understandings, all kinds of unhelpful assumptions  and blame-games that get started, very little of which spills out into the open. When it does, people get so emotionally charged, they get stuck in positions that offer no solutions to help the student.

Stick with me through this little journey instead.

Let me offer you a summary of what the problems and underlying issues are, and the kind of thinking that will help parents and teachers, homes and school management alike, to start pooling resources necessary to impact the root of the problem. As you go through these, seek to arrive at an objective view of whether or not each one may apply to some extent to your situation.

Misperceptions, Distortions & Ignorance About Academic Motivation

    1. Many parents assume that parental involvement means coming for school reports and staying in touch with the school. I call it confusing parental engagement in education with parental involvement with school.


    1. Many teachers and school managers lead parents to this assumption, because they’ve come to assume the same thing.  I’m trying to be blunt here without being offensive, but I think the following scenario makes mischief and hurt feelings multiply.Let’s say a school counselor advises a parent to be more involved. The parent then makes an extra effort to stay in touch with the school and teachers, but the student still doesn’t improve as expected. A hard thing to admit is that there may be more the parent can be doing to help the child.Harder still is the admission that the teacher can go a little further to help both parent and child. The sad part is that both are often willing to provide that help. So why does it so often end up in a stalemate?I believe it’s because the stalemate is better than what is so likely to happen if either side reveals what they really feel. They get offended. Then the commitment to work it out gets lost.


  1. Parents need more in-depth training in motivating the academic success of their children. I think this applies even to those parents who have children doing OK in school. All children would benefit from a more wholesome school experience such a training can deliver.Parental perspectives on when, how and why students show up in school the way they do, need to be accurate, and they need to be nuanced. But parents rarely get the complete picture. Quite understandably, they are sensitive to an honest assessment by the teacher, who therefore tip-toes around  the parts of her assessment that is critical of the parent. There’s a whole lot left unsaid at those report meetings.
  2. Teachers feel such training is not their responsibility Even if it were, they feel they cannot openly bring up the subject to many parents, who often feel insulted, and end up blaming the teacher for not doing their part.I have mixed feelings about this one. Having spent some years in the classroom myself, I know what it’s like. The sheer magnitude of what they do every day in classrooms would overwhelm some of the most competent business managers.Then there’s this tendency in communities with too many youth-related problems. They default to dumping more work on teachers, very often just for some bureaucrat to give the impression they’re on top of things.  Teachers are pushing back. I hear them saying, “Enough! Sure, training for parents would help. But my job ends here. Let someone else do that part.”Can anyone really blame them?

Training Components & Nuggets

So exactly how do you motivate academic success, readiness for college and overall love of learning? How do you get children and teens to push themselves to want to function at their very best instead of just getting by? Beyond more involvement with the school, and coming out for school reports and meetings, what can a parent do?

Let me start by saying there’s a very good reason why teachers don’t want this job. Motivating other human beings is a skill. Any training program that goes beyond the very basics have several components involved. There’s the information to deliver. Then there’s the task of meaning-making, where the participants would have to deepen their understanding at an emotional level. And finally, any skill takes modeling and repetitive practice. Parents who are themselves motivated will find it very interesting, but fairly challenging.

Done well, it’s not the kind of thing you can get done in a workshop with parents after school hours.

Training should deliver the items outlined below within that overall framework.

  • Basic Psycho-Education: This is a huge part of why TLP exists. Without too much jargon, parents just want to know the why and the how. When interacting with children, so many things we accept as normal are the cause of the same problems they were intended to solve.Our pet peeve with corporal punishment is a great example (in fact, punishment itself). It boggles my mind how many highly educated folks in my neck of the woods still don’t understand how much damage it’s responsible for, and how useless it really is when you take the time to study it in detail. But let’s continue before I start ranting again.
  • Parental Awareness: Parents deserve ways to measure their own educational activities against best practices out there. Motivation to succeed in school is just a part of bigger set of concerns with growing the inner life of children.How do you grow self-discipline, responsible behavior, or determination? I’m 100% sure many parents would be deeply interested in what those best practices look like, if they only knew they existed.
  • Community: We’re social animals. We learn fastest, and more deeply as part of a community sharing the same interests.

How You Can Help Develop “Motivate Academic Success” (MAS)

After working at it for four years, I’m almost ready to roll out the beta version of TLP’s program for parents to get their hands on this type of training. But I need your help. Before launching it, I need a group of 50 or so parents to take the training and give me honest feedback. You’ll immediately get lifetime access to the $150 program for only $50. In return, your feedback helps me to fine-tune it and make it parent-friendly. If you’re interested in being a part of this small group, sign up here and I’ll contact you first before launching to the public in early January.

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