Pat Forgione hammers home the right message.

October 24th, 2007

Fun times this morning: I got to attend a 7:45 a.m. assembly at my kids’ school, which once again (three years running!) topped the Austin school district in fundraising for Reading Is Fundamental. (RIF is a biiiig deal with the younger set Chez Walker.) The guest of honor was Dr. Pat Forgione, Austin’s superintendent of Schools. He was extremely good-humored and energetic, and conveyed the air of a veteran schoolteacher who is intensely interested in the thoughts and feelings of the kids around him.

What was so impressive about what he said: while praising students, teachers, parents, administrators, and RIF sponsors to the heavens, he pounded home the theme that intelligence comes from effort — that hard work leads to smarts, which in turn enables to further success in work. The message of “effort = excellence” was practically the first thing that came out of his mouth, and he didn’t just touch on it lightly — he reiterated it several different ways that kids and parents alike could relate to.

This matches the educational model recommended by Po Bronson in this New York magazine article, which I’ve mentioned before. Don’t praise your kids — or your students — for their innate qualities (“You’re so smart . . . you’re so pretty”) anywhere near as much as you praise them for hard work, that is, for putting superior effort into their endeavors. I ended up talking about this after the assembly with a couple of moms of my acquaintance, and we all agreed: kids will succeed when they put their guts into something.

Superior effort — not anything innate — is the key. Rewarding superior effort is an investment that will repay itself many times over.

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