“If society as a whole begins to embrace the struggle of learning, there is no end to what that could mean for global human potential,”

~Sal Khan

When my oldest son was in elementary school, he was lucky enough to have our very own Tom Karnes as a teacher for two years. I volunteered in the classroom and probably learned as much as my Matthew did from the wisdom of Tom and his teaching partner, Randy. The lesson that has resonated with me the most over the years is the idea of teaching our children to work for and value more the intrinsic rewards versus the extrinsic rewards in this life. An extrinsic reward is an external thing such as the praise of others while an intrinsic reward is that internal feeling we have when we feel proud of an accomplishment or effort that we have made. This was a difficult lesson for my straight A son who lived for those award ceremonies each month, proudly waving the piece of paper that proclaimed he was on the honor roll.  But it is the practice of valuing intrinsic rewards that has shaped him into a lifelong learner, a college graduate, and a successful businessman. He learned that extrinsic rewards are a fickle thing, based on the opinions of others and never guaranteed, while intrinsic rewards come from within, generated by what he most values and holds dear in his heart and mind.

Dovetailing nicely with this idea is a study by Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck, who has been studying motivation and perseverance since the 1960’s. An article by Tracy Cutchlow sums up an interesting finding from the study, Why Some Kids Try harder and Some Kids Give Up

She found that children with a growth mindset, those who were praised for effort and who believe that intelligence is not fixed but is tied to the work and effort they put into something, did much better in their learning performance. In my teaching career, i have learned not to praise a student’s work or final product but rather their effort and to always add, “You must feel very proud of yourself for how hard you have worked!” I will often ask them how they feel about what they have done in class that day or on a certain project because I want them to learn to consider critically how they learn and how hard they try and to feel pride in their efforts. I do not want my students to have their sense of accomplishment to be based on my praise but rather to emanate from their ability to face a challenge and work toward a goal.

If we can consistently teach our children to look at their efforts critically and feel pride in themselves when they have put forth their best effort, especially when it is a struggle or difficult task, we will be giving them a valuable tool on their path to a lifetime of learning.

Post by Chris Dragomanovich, Resource Teacher at Valley Oaks Charter School Tehachapi