Lindy is a fifth-grader in a very competitive school district, as measured by state mandated testing scores, SAT scores, graduation rates, and students’ selective college acceptances. The district’s push for excellence appealed to her parents who chose the district for its reputation. Now each weeknight Lindy can spend several hours working on homework, and her parents dutifully sit with her at the kitchen table until the work is completed. Often this leaves both the child and supportive parents exhausted and sometimes teary, but it is viewed as the price for excellence. Lindy’s parents applaud both her diligence, as well as their own.
A few weeks into the school year, Mr. Dawson, who is Lindy’s teacher, noticed the girl’s fatigue. In his class journal, he makes a note: “seems tired.” He is not too concerned, though, since Lindy turns in her work and meets standards on assessments. Many of his students play at least one team sport and take dance, music, or karate lessons, in addition to having busy social schedules. “Tiredness is the currency of excellence,” he tells parents at Parent Information Night, who nod at each other with affirmation.
When the first progress report goes home, Mr. Dawson has recognized Lindy’s diligence. “With more effort,” Mr. Dawson writes, “Lindy can move from meets expectations to exceeding them.” By November, Lindy is no longer completing assignments in class and is giving her parents much more push-back at home. She complains about feeling ill in the morning, and when her parents send her to school anyway, she asks to visit the school nurse. The hip-hop dance group class she loves has been removed from her schedule, and her mother has not signed Lindy up for the next term. Weekends are now devoted to catching up on the folder of unfinished work that Mr. Dawson has willingly sent home on Fridays by parent request. Even over the Thanksgiving break, Lindy plays catch up instead of hanging out with her friends and sister.
By the beginning of December, it is time for Lindy’s parent-teacher conference. Mr. Dawson has a large portfolio of Lindy’s work to show her parents. He describes his attempts to get Lindy to complete her work and compliments her parents on their commitment to her homework. “Can you tell me how much time she spends on school work?” he asks, unaware that his assignments take up the bulk of her non-school time.
Once it is clear the workload and performance are inconsistent with the amount of time spent, Mr. Dawson and Lindy’s parents have some choices to make. Often times, this is the point at which parents become angry, either at one another for not having prevented issues from escalating, or at the teacher for failing to communicate sooner about the child’s difficulties. Helpful options would include referring the child for specific testing, or start polling the teenager’s friends, who until now have heard little about concerns for their peer’s academic performance. We should take an extensive look at this story in the framework of the SMART model and see how to prevent these types of problems through strengths spotting, managing, advocating, relating, and training.
– From SMART Strengths Copyright 2011: John Yeager, Sherri Fisher, David Shearon