Editor's note: This week, we feature guest blogger Sean Potts, a student who graduated from Executive Function coaching support to full independence.
I clearly remember bringing home my report cards in 7th grade: a familiar assortment of C’s and D’s that I dreaded showing my parents. Despite the deep disappointment that I felt, I was seemingly powerless to change my situation. At the time, I had three tutors, weekly meetings with my teachers, and parent-teacher conferences on a monthly basis. Despite this, my grades still continued to disappoint both myself and my parents. How could I possibly succeed in school when three tutors couldn’t even yield improvement? In my eyes, I was a D student incapable of anything greater. What I know now is that no mindset is more detrimental to progress than that one.
Flash forward six years. I’m currently a rising sophomore at Ithaca College with a substantial scholarship and a 3.7 GPA. Now let me clarify - I’m not sharing this information with you to boast about my achievements, but instead to show you that significant change is possible even in the students that seem most hopeless. Here are some steps I took along the way that I found particularly helpful.
The way you interpret a challenge is by far the most significant determinant in whether or not the challenge can be overcome. For me, I had no capability to improve my grades until I fully believed that I could do it - half-heartedly telling myself that I could do better wasn’t going to cut it. I discovered that self-doubt is the biggest hindrance in accomplishing a goal. Being confident in yourself first and foremost provides the backbone to achieving any goal, academic or otherwise. The first step toward developing self-confidence is accepting failures. Instead of being hard on yourself when you encounter failure, take some time to reflect on what caused you to fail so that the next time you know what to avoid. The absolute worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it. This can trap you in a vicious cycle of self-doubt, which will in turn will cause a decrease in effort, and thus more failure. See how that works? No good! Face failure with strength and confidence, as failure is truly just a lesson in perseverance, not a punishment or something shameful. Also keep in mind it’s important not to shoot too high at first, which leads me to my next point…
Set Realistic Goals
If you’re getting C’s and D’s on a regular basis, it’s going to be pretty difficult to immediately start earning straight A’s. That’s a pretty unrealistic goal for most people because it requires a complete change in how you approach your work. Although it’s important to try to develop good work habits when you’re struggling, it’s not going to appear overnight. It takes work. So instead of jumping straight towards that big goal, start working toward it incrementally. If your last report card was all C’s, try working towards half C’s and half B’s for the next one. Although this won’t immediately bring you to that big goal of straight A’s, it will certainly build a sense of confidence as you see each mini-goal achieved. And confidence is key, remember? If you still fall short of these incremental goals, take some time and look at what you did. Did you miss too many homework assignments? Did you spend too little time preparing for a test? Be mindful of what kind of effort you invested into your work and take some time to reflect on it. Chances are the problem areas will stick out. Once you’ve identified those areas, it’s time for the next step….
If procrastination was your pitfall, make a plan to conquer it. This was always a huge problem for me. I had a tough time starting work early and even if I did get started, I’d get distracted by my phone or the internet almost instantaneously. So I did two things to combat this. First, I trained myself to start my homework right away. No ifs, no buts, just straight to work. Although this was difficult at first, once I began to do it routinely every single day, it became second nature over time. It’s also helpful to create some kind of reward system for these efforts, such as allocating time to hang out with friends or play video games after the work is done.
Advice to a Struggling Student
Ensuring that you have a good mindset, realistic goals, and are open to change will help you become a successful student. Most importantly, focus on your own goals and don’t compare yourself to others.
Finally, it’s essential to find a source of inspiration or support. Although all of these steps can be accomplished alone, it’s certainly not easy. Reaching out and advocating for yourself when needed is another crucial aspect to achieving success. Support can come from any knowledgeable individual that you trust. For me, that help came from Michael, an Executive Function coach. Do you think that a hyperactive 13 year old boy could figure out ALL of this on his own? No way! These were just some of the indispensable bits of advice that I received over the months I worked with my coach.
To my fellow struggling students, let me leave you with this: If I could do it, you certainly can, too.
Many students, like in Sean's story above, get distracted by texting or other online activities when doing homework. This can make homework time seem endless. Download our student guide to reducing homework time by limiting distractions.
Sean Potts is a sophomore at Ithaca College, majoring in marketing. He is a graduate of Medfield High School in MA. Sean has been a Social Media Intern at Beyond BookSmart since March, 2016. His duties include crafting messages for Facebook and Twitter, analyzing trends in topics, planning/shooting/editing videos, and identifying new areas to educate fans and followers. In his spare time, Sean is an avid music lover, jazz guitarist, reader, and traveler.