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3 ways to look at grade reports like a rebel.

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” -Oprah Winfrey, of course. She’s sort of a rebel, right?
Keep the epic family drama on the screen.
A few weeks ago, Covid got me. Stuck in bed and needing distraction from the combo platter of bone aches, nausea, and dizziness, I rediscovered the joys of watching really good tv. So, I sailed through Bridgerton which then led me to Inventing Anna (not done with that one yet) and all 3 seasons of Succession. I love a drama. But, on screen only, please, universe.

In Succession, there’s this character who offers himself up to take the fall for a truly horrific, epic corporate crime and cover up. So, the people in the office start calling him Christmas Tree Tom because they start hanging their other smaller crimes on him too since he’s going down anyway.

OK, keep that in mind as I attempt this segue from my new TV obsession to the point of this post: report cards.

It will soon be report card season. For some, that will mean celebration. For others, it might mean shame, frustration and possibly some cover-up attempts of their own, minus the corporate size shredding operation.

If you suspect the latter might happen in your own household and wish to keep the drama to Netflix and not your dinner table, here are a few alternatives to handling report card conversations,  in order of least to most rebellious. 
1. Put it in their hands, not yours, literally.
By the time they are teenagers, I believe grade reports should be in their hands, not their caretakers. We can provide the  structure, time, and space for them to look at them, without adding a whole lot more onto it than that. I think our role is to help them look at it as information, but not as a final sentence, blame, or character judgment.

To avoid turning it into a Christmas Tree Tom moment and hanging more crimes onto the grades than is necessary, which will only cause that tree to snap with the weight of it all, print it out and get two colored highlighters.

1. Have your student highlight anything in the notes or grades that shows improvement, appreciation, progress, or a strength and read those out.

2. Then, have them use a different color to highlight anything that they don’t want to see on next term’s report card. Have them read that out loud to you as well with the promise that you’re only a sounding board. You’re not there to add any extra judgement, frustration, or stress. 

3. Finally, have them braindump on paper, out loud, or on post-its: What can you do to change the things you want to see less off on the next round? How can I or someone else help? What can you do this summer to be in a better spot to make those changes when school starts again?

Give them a really, good, long pause to emphasize the point that you believe in their ability and responsibility to come up with their own ideas. If they still come up empty, it’s a good opening to introduce that they could use some help that you are willing to set up. This could be in the form of your own help OR in the form of a more neutral 3rd party like a therapist, counselor, a trusted older family member, or an academic coach.
2. You could use it as a Super Soul Sunday moment and channel Oprah.
Can Oprah qualify as a little bit of a rebel? I think she has done and said some pretty unconventional things to shake things up a bit. Like this one about forgiveness: forgiveness means giving up the hope that the past could be any different. 

For kids who struggle in school, report cards really put this to the test. There’s much to forgive. Forgiveness of themselves for making mistakes. Forgiveness of teachers who didn’t “get” them or what they needed or who were just so very tired this year and couldn’t go the extra steps your student might have needed to connect with what they were putting down in class. Forgiveness of a school system that is far less than ideal for attuning to their natural curiosity, abilities, communication styles, or strengths. 

Teach them to say, “oh, well.” Not to their future or potential. But to their desire for things to be more perfect or different than they are in order for them to experience success or happiness. Teach them to say “oh, well,” if they tried something that didn’t work out. Or “oh, well,” if that teacher or class wasn’t perfect. Just because some things suck about school or some things sucked about the way you went about it, doesn’t mean you can’t still make different choices and be proactive in creating a good life for yourself now and in the future. 

Have them instead brainstorm all that they are in control of and the things they are not. Let them vent about the stuff they perceive as out of their control. Then, turn their attention to the things that they are in control of. You can even have them make some concentric circles to brainstorm this out into . Check out this circles of influence summary for more info about the classic Stephen Covey lesson on moving from reactive to proactive. If you’re a dorky former teacher type like myself, you know the power of a graphic organizer to help kids think clearly and map out their next steps. 
3. You could just not look at it.
I know this one might feel out there, but if having another “talk” about their grades makes you suspect it will lead to a frustrating conversation that goes nowhere but resistance town, you could save yourself the trouble and just not look. Hand it to them and tell them you don’t care about their grades. You care about their happiness and success. That there’s no use in you being more interested in those things than they are. That success means more than a GPA to you. Sure, a good GPA could make that success easier, but not necessarily, because success means the joy you get when you can feel yourself learning and growing towards your potential which can happen when you’re getting a D and also not happen when you’re getting an A.

You know that success takes more than good grades or even teacher approval. So, ask them to read it over on their own and ask them if there’s any useful information in there that they could use to make their life work better next term. Ask them if they have ideas about help they need, or strategies to use, or pitfalls to avoid to move in the direction of their dreams.

What are their dreams by the way? If they don’t know, that could be a good place to start. From there, you can plan out a different kind of progress report with indicators of well-being and learning that have nothing to do with grades.

P.S. This last approach is known to work with both the under-achiever type who is prone to hide the grades and the over-achiever type who has trouble being satsified with anything less than consistent, ebullient praise. It’s usually just opposite sides of the same perfectionist coin.

For more support in going beyond grades to motivate and support your teenager towards their true potential, check out!

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