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Teaching the Power of Will to Our Children

I heard this story on NPR this week, where four-year olds are learning self-control as part of their social development at school. It cited a recent study showing that students who exhibit better mastery of self at an early age, and even as teens, will fare better as adults financially, in the workplace, with their health and in their relationships.

The fact that we actually needed a study to get to this “finding” and the fact that the finding is reported as news proves just how much in denial Americans are about one of the biggest underlying reasons our education system is a failure.

Allow me to explain.  Regardless of where you stand on “No Child Left Behind”, the adoption of a national standard, public, private, or charter schools, teacher unions, or classroom size—all the usual scapegoats—the fact is that most of today’s students have trouble exercising and focusing the power of their will and learning self-discipline.  The ugly truth is simple.  What is essential in order for learning to take place has not changed…we have.

As the four-year olds in the NPR story are learning now, doing something you might not feel like doing—or don’t particularly want to do—is basic training for a life filled with difficult choices. It affects our health and weight, our ability to learn and succeed in school, and our effectiveness in any job or career we might choose. The strength of our will determines our ability to choose wisely for ourselves, and practice is the only way to learn the true power of will.

Learn how to focus the power of your will – especially when you don’t want to.

Prior to teaching a seminar at the Naval Academy, I had the privilege of sitting in on a briefing from Admiral Holloway. In discussing the recruiting challenges faced by the military and the Navy specifically, the Admiral told the officers that 75% of America’s youth are ineligible for military service due to obesity, criminal records, or lack of basic academic credentials.

These are the same group of young Americans that our teachers are charged with teaching in their classrooms every day. The fact that our youth are in such bad shape developmentally is a major part of our education system’s failure. It is not a political problem. It is not a policy problem. It is a cultural problem.  Where do we fit this fact into our plan to overhaul our education system? Many of the high-performing education systems in other countries have larger class sizes than the United States does. They also have schoolchildren who understand the importance of self-discipline.

What is the pre-requisite to becoming a good learner? Long before America’s test scores in math and science can ever stand up to the top performing countries, America’s children need to have parents and schools that focus on helping our children to develop and focus the power of their will.

I’ve developed a list of Success Strategies for the classroom, and I think it’s time to call upon one specifically and elevate the concept into our collective conscious as we work to transform our education system.

Success Strategy #7: Learn how to focus the power of your will – especially when you don’t want to.

Helping children learn how to use their will to develop the kind of discipline it takes to make hard choices and succeed in life needs to be a national priority. It will require a team effort by parents, teachers, administrators, and any institution that has an impact on raising our children. We, the adults in the matter, need to use our collective will to focus on this problem. It’s not an easy one to solve. The NPR news report has already shown us what will be the hardest part of this effort—admitting the problem for what it is.

2 thoughts on “Teaching the Power of Will to Our Children

  1. Dawn - February 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Joe – I agree with you. Though it is hard to hear, we have to continue to remind our kids that their education is their “job”, just like we have to go to work everyday. As educators, we strive to make education more engaging, more authentic and more successful – students must meet us there though instead of being passive recipients of our efforts to engage them. Just like the old saying goes….”it takes two to Tango”….we are hoping to succeed using a Dancing with the Stars approach (one “expert” and one “novice” with a teacher and student)…there are some amazing examples of how that has worked and they have all involved both “dancers” working hard to accomplish the same objective.

  2. Melissa Wiegand - February 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Hi Joe… I don’t know if you remember me but I used to work for MSMS and did association management. I have since gone back to school and become an elementary schoool teacher in West Palm Beach FL. I am planning to purchase your sucess strategies for the classroom. I just wanted to say “THANK YOU”. I often have trouble convincing my fellow teachers that we need to stop making excuses for bad behavior and poor choices but instead hold all our students to high standards and help them learn to reach them. I wish wish wish that you could talk to my school. I work in a school where 85%+ students are on free/reduced lunch. Many of the students have little to no support at home. I teach 3rd grade and many of my students simply do not understand that they have to take an active role in their own education.
    Anyway… I wanted to say thank you for the post and will look forward to getting my copy to post in my classroom (will be purchasing after I post).
    On a personal note… I still have the “Ferbie” you sent me and somewhere I have an autographed “45” record from your Caruso Brother days…
    Thank you again,
    Melissa Wiegand

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