Show. Don’t tell.

I can see why so many of us default into the belief that discipline exists in its most powerful form when set in a paradigm of rule enforcement and punishment. Much of our reality is based on the reward system.

As the former Dean of a high school in Miami for nearly two decades, I myself fell victim to that way of thinking. Maybe it was those four years I spent in military school marching back and forth in the snow, or maybe it was all that yelling in growling voices that had everyone walking a straight line.

But as we all know, maturity, especially regarding one’s perspective, takes time. At least it took me some time. And with that maturity came a wider lens—not only relating to discipline, but motivation, too. I could see in my own school who was thriving and who was not. And my perspective gave me more—because I had more to work with. Knowing the kids and their parents made for a balanced equation in my mind. I could literally trace so many kids’ trajectories toward success or failure based on one, simple word: consistency.

So often, we tell kids one thing and do another. It happens all the time. I have even found myself telling someone not to do something–as I was literally doing the same, exact thing. And so often, we tell kids to do their homework or to study—and many of them (are you ready?)………..DON’T KNOW HOW TO STUDY!!! And the Covid-19 Pandemic is NOT helping that. Now that the entire delivery system for education is changing, in real-time, kids will be expected to adapt in unforgiving ways.

Kids need clarity. We all do, but kids need clarity from us. As adults, we should be able to work toward clarity as a mindset and a goal. And as adults, we have had enough experiences to discern what is worth our attention and what isn’t. But with kids, it’s different. They often lack the background knowledge or experience to decide what is relevant and what matters—and sometimes that plays out in their academic lives.

I am 54. I was not a great student as a kid (remember…military school). I’m much better now (don’t worry). What I can tell you from personal experience, is that telling kids that don’t do their homework to DO their homework—DOESN’T work. In fact, they already know that they need to do it, and telling them that just reaffirms that shortcoming for them—over and over and over and over and over—and with each iteration of that dynamic, a kid’s self-esteem plummets. – by Erik Shane, Ph.D. and founder of Leading & Learning