I’m sure parents the world over share my dread of wrestling with children’s homework and preparing for tests. Calming my teenagers’ anxiety before a test or trying to get them to eat breakfast before a benchmark exam are parenting moments I’ll be more than happy to be done with.
After many struggling sessions, I’ve realized that more than prepping them, I need to change our approach to testing. The issue is in our view of scoring and failure. If my kid brings home a 60% score on a test, I’ll try to say something like “That means you understand 60% of the material. What do you think you need to learn next?” We now use the scoring more as a “you are here” marking on a map, not as a determination of success or failure. We try to make growth the goal.
Focusing on growth puts a new spin on making mistakes, asking questions, reworking a problem, and even failure. Growth is exciting and rewarding, and always pursuable and attainable. Even if they haven’t fully mastered the material, they can learn one more thing. And progress becomes a lifelong pursuit. I don’t want fear of failure to hold them back. I would rather have them try, fail, see where their weaknesses are, strengthen those weaknesses, and try again.
This has led me to find out a lot about myself. I realized that I’d hit my ceiling of growth because I wasn’t venturing out of my comfort zone. I was terrified of failure, speaking up only when I was 100% sure I was 100% correct, only attempting things I knew I was proficient in, and generally holding back.
Recognizing that in myself was uncomfortable. When it comes to growth there’s no such thing as simply maintaining; you’re either going forwards or backwards. And who wants to go backwards? Who wants to be less wise, less healthy, and poorer today than you were yesterday?
Since I’ve made the choice to grow, I’ve found endless opportunities—harder workouts, uncomfortable conversations, new recipes, “scarier” investments, applying for promotions at work, signing up for training courses. Oh, and backing into the driveway! Each step of growth has made me want to keep going.