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In my experience in elementary classrooms over the years, (including in our City Neighbors early grades classrooms and now in a mentoring capacity) I find that about this time of year, the question tends to come up:  “What part should effort and hard work play in children’s schooling?”

Teachers in the classroom are readily able to see that there are two parts to the process of learning something new:  whether the child has the skills needed and whether the child has the independent work habits to apply those skills.  For young readers, there is no substitute for their own independent practice at reading.  Skills are introduced at certain times; there is also plenty of time for practice to apply those skills. Or consider middle schoolers, working to systematically research their year-long project.  A certain amount of industrious trying will lead them to be successful.

At times this can be a bit confusing for families.   Sometimes parents’ reasoning can be:  “We chose City Neighbors so that our child would enjoy school and not find it tiresome, as our own schooling sometimes was.” So when the first rush of back to school excitement is naturally lessened, when some reluctance for working at skills asked of children can come up, parents may become concerned.  “But I want my child to love to come to school…”

Yes, but:  Even if adults love their profession, will they love every minute and aspect of it?  (paperwork or repetitive parts of even a well-loved job?)  For kids’ job as students, there will be some practice and “repetition for mastery” at school, necessary to grow skills.

Research in the past few years about learning shows that those who feel industrious mental effort actually makes a person smarter are more likely to take on difficult tasks, doing well at them.  It is apparent to teachers that how successful children are with mastering skills is in large part related to how well and how long they are able to persevere  working independently—even when it becomes difficult or “hits a snag.”  Children’s  ability to stick with it does not appear to be necessarily related to how “bright” the children are but rather to how much they see themselves as independent people who can work at something until the job is done.

So as parents it helps to praise our kids’ work not with a “You’re so smart” as often as with a “Look how hard you worked at that.” This message is that their effort matters, and will bring a result which is in their control. (And we can encourage “sticking-with-it” skills at home too, with even simple chores like making the bed neatly or organizing or doing a load of laundry.)

My impression from City Neighbors classrooms is this: they do love to come to school! There is a lot of the pure joy of discovery in those City Neighbors classrooms, but also satisfaction of a tough job, tried and completed well!

~Monica O’Gara, Early Childhood Specialist, City Neighbors Charter School~