So it’s August, school’s approaching, and you’re pondering how to have a successful school year. Okay, probably not. You’re just trying to enjoy the fleeting, precious last days of summer. But soon enough, the Fates will transport you back in the classroom amongst your friends (mostly) trying to make a go of it.
What are some tips and advice for how to have a great academic year? For what it’s worth – and I know you’re not asking – here are some I might offer, having taught high school humanities for 30 years.
Self-Motivation: Remember you’re in school for your own learning and not primarily to please others. So many students get caught up in adolescent mind games with their parents, either underperforming to keep parental expectations low, or stressing about overachieving to appease the overlords. For every goal you set, ask yourself for whom is this really for. But remember, adults have already been through the process, so their experience should be prized.
Personal Health: Mental and physical health provide the strongest basis for success in school. Though young students often feel physically invulnerable, they’re actually quite dependent on proper sleep, nutrition, rest and relaxation. A good night’s sleep before a test will often yield higher scores than late-night cramming. Sleep deprivation – chronic in our society – can lead to metabolic changes, anxiety, depression and mental health challenges. Stimulants and depressants, even mild ones, can in turn lead to spikes and crashes in energy levels. If you want to be the strongest performer in the room, it helps to be in the best health.
Relationships: One of the greatest formulas for success in school is to try to develop every inter-personal relationship you have to its healthiest level. If you’re kind to everyone you meet, your days will become increasingly pleasant and fulfilling. Get to know all the adults in the building. Learn about life and your future possibilities from everyone who might be of help to you. Tell your teachers at the beginning of the term that your goal is to learn well and they’ll look out for you and try to help. Cherish your friends and the special time you’re spending with them. Seek to help others. Over time, school can be a place of great joy if you invest the time and effort in the people around you.
Curiosity: Academic performance and learning is always based on curiosity. Try to develop your natural intellect by seeking to find answers to those things about which you’re naturally curious. Read about what interests you, for your own pleasure. The most successful students realize early on that they’re responsible for their own learning and their own questions and answers and not dependent on others to simply stuff their heads with information.
Think of School as a Game: Many students get bogged down by the notion that school is a drag because everything’s about rules, instructions and coloring inside the lines. Of course, there’s some truth in this. But, if you think of the process as akin to a complicated social game, it becomes much easier to master the tricks. Most successful students understand that paying close attention to teachers’ instructions and advice helps them score extra points, while ignoring them leads to automatic deductions. If you make a habit of double-checking that you’re following every instruction, you’re far more likely to win the game. Teachers also welcome students who ask for extra help, clarifications and tips on how to succeed. Why not take advantage?
Class Participation: While some teachers explicitly grade for “class participation” and others do not, it’s hard for any teacher to mark down students who consistently bring their best selves to class each day. If you seek to learn, to ask questions, to work with others, to be of assistance, to enjoy the creative and collaborative processes of class, you’ll be most likely to succeed and inspire others. Bring joy and a sense of play to the classroom and you’ll start feeling the same from those around you. Try to sit in the front of the class each day. Perfect or high attendance also has its payoffs.
Work Hard and Play Hard: If you develop a pattern of working as hard at school as you can, spending hours each day applying yourself to the learning and thinking, then you can also experience the guilt-free pleasures a hard-driving person can enjoy, knowing they gave their all. Create a workspace at home that allows you to focus 100 percent on the tasks before you, without distractions. Picture yourself on the first day of summer vacation at the end of the year. Will you have a guilty feeling because you sloughed off and might have worked harder? Or, will you truly be able to enjoy the arrival of summer because you did everything you could to have a good year? No matter what happens, always hold your head high.
And one more thing – there’s really no such thing as “back to school shopping,” just so you know.