Five Gifts Students Need to Enter Adulthood
Last year, the results of a multi-year, nationwide study were released. It was a College and Career Readiness Survey of 165,000 high school students conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. Several discoveries were made, but one clear one for me was that a majority of young adults do not feel ready for life after school. One report said, “An overwhelming number of students, 87 percent, want to eventually earn a college degree and land a career. But many believe that their schools aren’t helping them develop the skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation.” Executive director Jen Vorse Wilka concluded, “While it’s encouraging to see the proportion of students with high college and career expectations, most do not feel prepared to do so.”
I have always been a fan of schools and organizations that equip students with skills they’ll need for career and adulthood. I wonder, however, if there are “gifts” we can give them, even if our schools don’t focus on career readiness. In other words, we may not be offering courses on finance and accounting, but could we provide what they’ll need emotionally to meet the challenges they’ll face. When I was in school, I never took a course on college and career readiness, but the teachers, coaches and adults in my life furnished something just as valuable that made me ready.
Five Gifts They Need From You
May I offer a handful of practical “gifts” you can give to the students you lead every day? Today’s students, the ones who make up what I call Generation iY, need five elements from you in order to enter adulthood with a full emotional tank:
1. Empathy – “I understand you.”
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for most students, it is indistinguishable,” says author David Augsberger. I have found I can say almost anything, even share some constructive criticism if my students believe they’re understood. When they feel our empathy, students have the hope it takes to meet challenges. I am convinced students do not have the innate need to get their own way. They do have the innate need to be heard. In fact, I believe peoples’ top need is the need to be understood.
2. Incentives – “I believe in you.”
Students perform better when our messaging stems from our belief in them. One survey reported that effort increases by at least 40 percent, and in some cases up to 300 percent, when our feedback (even hard feedback) comes from a platform of belief in their ability to execute our direction. We actually incentivize them with our confidence; I have seen simple words of hope cultivate ambition in students when there was none. Sometimes our confidence can translate into their self-confidence.
3. Standards – “I expect the best from you.”
Leaders must be both responsive and demanding. Responsive means we communicate our acceptance of their value. Demanding means we so believe in them that we refuse to dilute a standard because it’s hard. We must call out the best in them. While they may not appreciate it in the moment, it sends the clear message that we really mean it when we say we believe in them. It relays we believe they have it in them to succeed at a goal. Expectations have so much to do with achievement.
4. Accountability – “I won’t settle for less than our agreement.”
We all do better when we’re watched. It was true in practice when I was a student athlete; and it’s true in life. Accountability means someone next to us, even in authority over us watches and cares how we do. It is a consistent reminder of our standards. In fact, if we don’t offer this gift, the previous two are diluted. How does “I believe in you” matter if we don’t actually follow through with accountability? Holding students accountable is empowering to them over the long haul.
5. Celebration – “I will praise effort, regardless of the result.”
Students need to be recognized for effort that is in their control and can be repeated.
While we want to equip students to achieve results, often the outcome is out of their control. That makes it a slippery object to hold on to, since so many other factors determine the product. Students need adults to celebrate “wins” in their life and to recognize both habits and attitudes that lead to success. I firmly believe that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Let’s affirm the right behaviors.
Remember — we must go first. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. If students are going to become healthy adults, we must be one ourselves first. I’ve said it before — let’s be the person we needed when we were young.
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