Critical Minds, Compassionate Hearts

New Year's Resolutions or Goals?

Mallory Rome, Head of School
Welcome back! One of my favorite moments every year is the morning when school starts again after winter vacation when students and teachers stream through the front doors and I realize anew how much I enjoy working with this community. Vacation is precious - but so is our kehillah.
Welcome back! One of my favorite moments every year is the morning when school starts again after winter vacation when students and teachers stream through the front doors and I realize anew how much I enjoy working with this community. Vacation is precious - but so is our kehillah.

I also relish the pause and reboot of a new calendar year. While I'm Eeyore-ish about New Year's Resolutions (don't they seem destined for failure?), I do believe in goals. Recently I was reading an oldie-but-goodie called Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning, by Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal. Stipek was the longtime dean of Stanford's School of Education and a lifelong researcher of motivation. Her book is written for parents, and I highly recommend it. One particularly interesting chapter distinguishes between performance goals and learning goals. I'll let you enjoy the details, but here's the brief summary: Both matter and both have their place. However, performance goals ("I want to get an A") keep students from taking intellectual risks, encourage them to focus on "looking smart"; rather than "getting smart,"; and ultimately stunt their desire to learn new material. Learning goals, conversely, such as "I'm going to learn to play a new piece of music" or "We're learning to solve inequalities" encourage students' motivation, increasing their desire to expand both their academic skills and their learning overall. Learning goals also encourage the development of strong study skills, the willingness to ask for help, and the desire to take on challenges, while performance goals often increase anxiety by focusing on a narrowly defined end product.

One of the things I love hearing from alumni parents is how motivated their children are after leaving Rashi, and how well-prepared they are to learn. To me, this is high praise indeed. I've seen schools where accomplished students leave burnt out or without the scaffolding to be independent learners, and - spoiler alert - it doesn't end well. At Rashi, we draw on research from Deborah Stipek and others to inform how we nurture students' love of learning and make sure their impressive achievements are matched by their enduring motivation.

Stipek's book is full of research as well as helpful suggestions for parents; I appreciate that she's realistic, for example, about the gap between what research tells us about competition and rewards and what our reality may be with our own children. I hope you'll encourage your children to return to school ready to tackle new learning, build new friendships, and make the rest of the year as rich and exciting as possible.
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