Success in School and Life

How would you answer the following question: What are the factors that most influence how children achieve success in school and life?

Several EAB teachers are currently attending the annual AASSA teachers’ conference with a focus, in part, on answering this essential question. To that end, our teachers are spending three days engaging with professional colleagues and internationally renowned educational specialists. Two of the specialists, Dr. Michael Thompson and Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, both highly recommended authors, have offered insights towards answering this question.9580068088_02ced873c8_o1

The psychologist, Michael Thompson, challenges adults to remember what school is actually like to better understand the psychological journey that students experience during their K3-12 school years. Thompson argues that children are constantly searching for three things: connection, recognition, and a sense of power and highlights that children are able to find these three needs in a variety of ways within the life of a school.

Thompson further describes the different student needs by elaborating on the “three types of children in school:
I. those whose journeys are characterized mostly by success,
II. those whose journeys are characterized by a chronic but manageable struggle,
III. those whose journeys are characterized by fury and despair.
Each journey has its own different pressures. Every child is constantly developing strategies for coping with the pressures that he or she feels.”

Thompson uses the metaphor of a person preparing for a long hike and the importance of finding just the right shoe “fit” to facilitate the hike and avoid painful blisters. While there is an important element of resilience and persistence associated with the learning process, the shoe metaphor challenges schools to find the right educational program to “fit” student needs so that the three types of children in schools are not subject to unnecessary “blisters” and are able to achieve personal success.

Returning to the need of children for connection, recognition, and a sense of power, Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, addresses the impact technology has on the relationships between children and adults. While Steiner-Adair advocates for the use of technology and the benefits to be gained, she also shares research findings that highlight how the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives can result in serious negative implications for our relationships. Steiner-Adair offers insights and advice that can help parents and educators to determine how best to integrate technology in our daily lives without diminishing our personal connections. She asks us to question how we interact with technology when engaging with children (e.g. Do we give children our undivided attention when they are speaking with us or are we continuously looking at our cell phones?) and how our need to access technological devices frames our days and lives.

If we are to respond to each child’s need for connection, recognition, and a sense of power, then we must not only question how well our educational program is addressing these needs, but also review the degree to which technology may be adversely affecting our relationships with students and adults alike. The further integration of technology into our lives is a reality that will not go away. Therefore, it is our responsibility to control how technology affects our lives to ensure that we are taking advantage of the tremendous benefits and available opportunities that technology provides, while also addressing the inherent challenges to our relationships and overall wellbeing.

Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at (Twitter: @dequanne)

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Matt

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