Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.

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One thought on “Raising the Bar

  1. “The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic.”
    My favorite line 🙂 Congrats to her! and to you both on getting her there.

    Liked by 1 person

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