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.

Breaking: You Can Have Your Family Back If You Chose To Get Off the Treadmill

A-Matrix-for-21st-century-familiesYou’re on life’s thread-mill, exchanging time for dollars…running faster and faster just to stay in one place.

Your grandparents used to bring home less pay. Yet they had more leisure time and lived fairly comfortable lives by world standards. More importantly, they raised an entire family with hardly a glitch.

We’ve gotten amazing technology. The entire planet is starting to boom financially. How has mankind gotten worse off in the midst of the most spectacular growth-period in history?

This is the picture your life is made of, and you know something’s terribly wrong with it. But like most other folks, you accepted it even while having that vague, unsettling suspicion all this isn’t quite right. And it’s not just the picture of your life either…it’s the entire frickin’ canvas everyone’s life is woven into. It’s big and you feel it’s staring you straight in the face but you still can’t put a single finger on it.« Continue »

How Safe Are The Children At School From Your Child?


What are the odds of a bully or his parent not being aware he’s one?

A small group of experts believe that bullying is just a point on the “aggression” scale, and that all human beings can be placed somewhere on that scale.

In other words, all of us are capable of being a bully. In fact, we all behaved like one at some point in our lives.

That doesn’t justify the extreme actions of a bully. It also doesn’t take us off the hook as a society. We still have to do something. In all honesty, when you look at it carefully, it means we have to do a lot more than what is normally recommended by those who just see it as a school problem.

I believe those experts are onto something.  The extreme bully is different from the rest of us only by the degree of his or her aggressive tendencies. We MUST see ourselves in their behavior in order to approach the problem in a way that has the best chance of really controlling it.  Doing so also avails us of the most powerful tool we have against the bully…and that’s compassion and deep understanding. I think that’s the view worthy of what I call a “Life-Parent.”

Weekend Bully-Victim

I can remember being one of the “lightweights” everyone only noticed inside a classroom. Even there, I can remember the meanest guy in class hitting and harassing me whenever the teacher wasn’t looking.  I can remember how alone I felt. It seemed as if everyone thought he was really cool, and what he was doing obviously made me the laughing stock.  It took a while for someone to come to my defense, but that’s another story.

A year later, they placed a new student named Joe in my class. Joe was bigger than the bully, but really quiet, and didn’t react quickly to anything.  In fact, I never saw him react at all.  Guess who started picking on him in school?

No. It was me.


I met Joe one Saturday morning in town. This is what I had been waiting for.  Now I was going to make my mark and have something to boast about come Monday. I put my dukes up and hit him. He had this surprised look on his face, but he balled his fists and took his stance.

I knew I was faster. I darted in and before he could move, hit him in the stomach. Whap! Then I danced back out. I did this three times in a row before Joe could take the puzzled look off his face.  I was winning!

Joe must have figured out that whatever my problem was, my skinny frame couldn’t do him much harm with all my speed. The fourth time I came in Joe leveled me with a right to the jaw and my world went dark.

And that’s how my bullying career lasted for four days.  Books and good grades at least made my teachers and family happy. Can’t please everybody. So I stopped caring too much what classmates thought of my fighting prowess out of pure necessity.   That was the path my life took.

But you see, Joe wasn’t that dumb a choice for a victim. I just had the good fortune (or not-so-good, depending on how you look at it) of weighing less than 4o pounds at the age of eight. I had the good fortune of having an army of brothers who certainly weren’t “light-weights.” Finally, I also had the good fortune of being exceptional in school at things that grown-ups care about.  That’s a lot of good-fortune.

But its not the likely path for most boys that age in similar situations.

The Bully-Problem

Having a shout

So the truth is that, all things considered, if strong steps are not taken at home and elsewhere, pretty much all children get aggressive to some degree. Some are just born with a more aggressive temperament that calls for more guidance from us.  What we have to do is identify exactly what those strong steps are. What are the things that minimize aggression in each and every child? What do we have to do as a community to empower families to do those things? It’s that simple.

But simple doesn’t mean easy!

Whenever a problem this large is in the public eye, a great number of quick-fixes, expert opinions, and knee-jerk reactions  will pop up. Everyone seems to have an answer.

It’s a good thing to have so many eyes looking for solutions. However, the very fact that there are so many different views on the subject tells us something about the difficulty of real long-lasting success.  Ask Counselors and other folks working directly with the problem in schools about evidence-based programs against bullying, and you’ll quickly find out there aren’t that many that actually work long-term. In modern societies, laws and the rights of the child dictate that even the bully has a right to an education, so knowing the bully’s identity doesn’t necessarily give you the means to put a stop to his behavior. What if the guidance is not in place at home and we’re dealing with a naturally aggressive youth?

What’s NOT helping?

The bully has a whole lot working on his/her behalf.  There’s the all-powerful “no-snitch” rule that comes from thuggish street-life subcultures.  There’s online anonymity, compulsory education regulations, negative peer-pressure, paralyzing fear on the school grounds, and availability of “victim-types.”

And we’re not even touching all the social/economic variables that make things difficult for parents to be supportive the way most of them wish to. We hear all the success stories about poor and single-parents making a difference… that sort of thing…but they don’t tell you that for every one who does, there are 4 more whose kids become part of the dismal statistics in some places where they build more jails than schools.

That’s the reality.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s ignorance–community ignorance. When entire communities don’t really understand the complexity of the problem, all the bully has to do is bide his time while it’s in the public eye.

For the vast majority of schools, every time they think they have the problem licked, in less than a year it comes roaring back.  School managers therefore find themselves having to maintain a high degree of alertness among their teachers and staff.  No one wants to admit that this is extremely difficult, and bound to wane at different periods of any given school year. Lest we forget, this is school we’re dealing with – not law-enforcement. Show me a school-culture that is highly vigilant all year round, and I’ll show you a school not paying enough attention to academic performance.  In the firestorm of publicity, it becomes politically incorrect to admit the truth.  We’re all pretty much just doing the best we can, but only for a few months at a time.

You see, the culture of schools is such that if they take pride in academic outcomes for their students, focus necessarily has to turn to academic performance. It is very easy to say that’s not good enough, and that schools have to do both.

Well actually, they do do both, but even the very best schools can’t maintain both at very high levels throughout the school year without major help.  That just the nature of the beast.  The “bully-problem” goes off the radar for a few months, and the next thing you know, it starts to happen more frequently as teachers are pushing towards educational goals. Getting staff and teachers to switch focus again actually results in lower motivation and school morale as teachers get burnt-out.

There are three variables we have to always keep in view. Unfortunately they don’t all get the attention they need.  The first one gets most of the attention from the Press.  They approach the problem as primarily a school problem because that’s where the violence actually occurs.

The Press touches on the second variable almost in passing. This one has to do with the level of violence being tolerated or even promoted in the home. We’ll be dealing with this in a separate blog-post. It’s actually where we need to be putting  most of our efforts, but we keep complaining about what schools are not doing.

The third variable is almost always ignored.  The more aggression that is acceptable in the wider society, the harder schools have to work to maintain peace. If your school is situated in an economically depressed district, you’ll have more problems – period. The school will therefore need more of those outside resources I referred to earlier. All the quick-fixes you read about or see on TV do help, but they need to be coordinated and sustained. And that requires more than what schools have to throw at the problem without that outside help.

What works?

Thomas Shahan (and a Salticid) on NBC's The Today Show!

To lick the bully problem, we have to first understand that if the problem is rampant, its only a symptom of a deeper problem. That deeper problem has to do with a culture of violence that has to be replaced by a shift in how our cultures teach children problem-solving, conflict resolution, and what I’ll call “low-level violence.”  Again, this will take yet another post, which we will be dealing with on our sister-site, “Teach Life-Skills.

Suffice to say here, it takes:

  1. a three-pronged approach directed at homes, at schools, and at the wider community
  2. coordinated, continuous effort
  3. all of society’s institutions lending a hand
  4. publicity and community education
  5. financial and political commitment at the highest decision-making levels

Give Strong Guidance

There’s a lot of good things written all over the internet about what you can do in the fight against bullying in schools.  Take heed of them. But we should get more knowledgeable and serious about getting on top of the problem in a way that works beyond just a few months.  Along with all of those things, we therefore need a shift in our thinking about what rampant bullying in our schools is actually telling us.  Out children are not only being neglected when it comes to giving them guidance at home and school. We are actively teaching them some of the same values we are trying to stomp out.. values that feed the natural tendency for many children to be aggressive in the absence of  self-esteem and essential life-skills.

Strong guidance doesn’t include one-way lecturing or preaching. We’re talking about parenting and leadership skills.  Its about leading them to come up with the answer themselves, leading them to start applying the solutions, then reinforcing  them relentlessly.

So the long and short of it is that the “bully” problem isn’t a matter of tackling a certain group of students or youth in our societies. It’s about parenting in ways that speak to our the better side of humanity’s nature, and about giving up methods that model hitting and “might-is-right” values.  It’s about soliciting the collaboration of the entire society in promoting empathy and compassion in all of us.

There are many ways to contribute to the cause. We should all be interested in learning more, and getting involved.  You can start by using one of the share-buttons below to spread this post. Then, if you haven’t done so already, you can download and read our free E-book to learn about the type of approaches we advocate for the home.  With your assistance, We’ll be developing avenues for making your communities more aware, while making a lot more information and training available.

Do you agree that we can all fight against bullying in smarter ways that work long-term? I’d really appreciate your opinion in the comment-box below.

A Parent’s Most Powerful Weapon Against Drugs And Risky Behavior

youths drinking and drivingEighty-seven degrees in the heart of winter

What is it that makes you live on an island paradise under the Caribbean sun, yet never go to the beach for three years?  That’s the question I was pondering yesterday looking out at the shimmering sea under clean blue skies with no clouds.

I can give you a dozen easy answers to the question, but I won’t.  They’re already sounding trite inside my head.  I can tell you for certain what made me appreciate the beach all the more, once I arrived there though.« Continue »

Why Some Children Don’t Work In School (Pt. 10)

Of Youth, Parenting, Teachers, and Education

Where the buck stops in Education

Where the buck stops in Education

Over the years working with youth-workers from many institutions, and educators in many schools, several themes kept coming up.

Listening to the principal of the middle school out in the Caribbean islands talk about educational challenges is remarkable in its resemblance to a chat with the manager of the juvenile offenders program in Belize, Central America, or the Director of an urban high school in Brooklyn, NY.

Where’s the bottleneck?« Continue »

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