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Nov. '23 Monthly Message: How Are You Doing in School?

This message is reprinted from my monthly email newsletter. Subscribe on the Home page to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

Every day, everywhere, students are asked a seemingly innocent question: “How are you doing in school?” How they answer depends entirely on their interpretation of “doing” in school. I began to wonder: do students have a common perception of this question’s meaning? Being a trained education researcher, I went ahead and found out! (And then I created a free training for parents based on what I learned! Details at the end of this message). I collected informal data by asking college students in my courses as well as high-school students from multiple schools what they think in order to answer this question. There were TWO most common interpretations, followed by several less common ones. Can you guess what the “big two” are?

  • Lots of students said they evaluate how they are “doing in school” by their current grades. I don’t think this is surprising, given our GPA-focused systems.

  • You may be surprised to know that the answer “grades” was actually outranked by another variable: how stressed out they are about school. For the majority of students I talked to, “how are you doing in school?” equals “how well are you handling the stress about academic demands?”

Focusing on academic stressors lines up with the national reports of declining student mental health (see this short but clear report for example statistics). And while significant numbers of students experience clinical mental health disorders, even more experience levels of unmanaged acute stress that can impair their performance, motivation, and clarity of direction. Here's the thing: academic stress plays a really important role in students' development. Learning to manage your stress response system in the face of weighty demands is truly a life skill! (In fact, I think “stress tolerance” should be listed as a targeted standard just as much as the subject areas in high-school and university gen. ed. requirements). However, too many students do not manage stress in healthy ways. This plays out as procrastination, distaste for school, disengagement with content, and burn-out. Sound familiar? Feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion should last for relatively short bursts, not full semesters. When students come to me in this state, I know they are lacking the tools and/or the environments to help them tolerate stress healthfully. It’s my privilege as a professor and student coach to teach them habits and perspectives that can process stressors better. Parents and caregivers often ask me how they can support academic stress management from their positions. I love this question because it shows how deeply families love their teen and young adult children! There is no single, simple answer, but there are many suggestions; namely, starting with having a better understanding of how human stress responses work and why they are so significant for high-school and college students. From there we can tailor strategies to fit the student’s specific needs and environment--always more powerful than one-size-fits-all “tips.” Because it all starts with educating families about academic stress, I am excited to offer a parent workshop on this very topic! Participants will learn what I know about student stress from my decades as a professor, studies on adolescent brain development, and hundreds of 1:1 interactions with stressed out students! “Beyond Stressed”: How to Manage Academic Stressors A workshop for parents of teen and young adult students Interested? If you are local to the Twin Cities, please join me on Monday Nov. 27 6:30pm in Bloomington, Penn Lake library. Want to attend but you live too far away? Register for Monday Dec. 4 at 7pm CST on Zoom. Attendance is free if you sign up via this form. More details will be sent after registration. Feel free to share with friends and neighbors! Parents of teens and young adults won't want to miss this chance to help the students in your life answer “how are you doing in school” in the best way possible, managing academic stress in healthy ways so they can achieve and thrive.

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