The Struggle is Real... and Really Important

Posted by Diane Hale on 10/23/2017

It’s almost becoming cliche to hear educators talk about how we have no idea what types of careers or world challenges our students of today will face as adults. While we know it is true, the fact that we can’t see into the future certainly does not negate the responsibility public school educators face in preparing our children for a future we can not predict. 


This dilemma is why we must teach and reinforce what we know will inevitably be true for the adults of tomorrow. Our children today must be trained to be thinkers, problem-solvers, and creators. This can only be accomplished if we allow our students to struggle. 


Watching a student struggle seems to go against every muscle in a teacher’s body. We are born to nurture, to support, and to help. Knowing, however, that when teachers identify the sweet spot of challenge for our students the gains students make in learning are the greatest. That “sweet spot” is the place where the concept is not too easy, but not out of reach either. When that spot is identified students struggle, and when struggle happens, learning is cemented. It still requires the deft skills of nurturing, supporting and helping of teachers, but the star of the show is the student and his struggle. 


Parents can help create a safe place for struggle too. Here are five things all adults can do when working with children to make struggling (and learning) commonplace, but not comfortable. 


  1. Just Right Reading - Kids need to find reading material that is at an appropriate level for them. Even exposing kids to books beyond their level and reading with them or to them helps expose students to that next level. Too easy books make learners complacent. 
  2. Answering Questions With More Questions - We all know an inquisitive student is in a prime place for learning, but adults are often too quick to provide an answer. Respond to big questions with raised eyebrows, a hmmm, or another question and let the child grapple with their own wondering. 
  3. Slowly Pull Support Away - There are times when you have to help with homework, with chores, or navigating life, but think about how you can slowly pull away from the help. If you normally sit with your child through her homework, start to leave after she gets started. If you are showing your child how to do something hand over hand, try sitting back and watching. 
  4. Patience - The reason we jump in to help is more about us as adults than about the child. We lose patience in watching someone struggle with something we can do easily. Walk away if you have to, but let them try. It’s good for learning, but also in building confidence. 
  5. Patience - It’s not an accident this tip is listed twice. It’s that important. Be patient!


This quarter make sure that “The Struggle is Real” is a reality in your home. It is the only way our children will make the gains required for a thinking, problem-solving, future.