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Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Great Students Do Differently: Be Proactive, Not Reactive

As I sit here at my desk at home watching the snow falling and grading student essays, I am reminded of an idea I had for another entry in this series. It occurred to me on vacation (I think about how to be a better teacher while on vacation. How many students think about how to be a better student while sitting on a tropical beach? There may be something seriously wrong with me!). I am in the process of reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, and I was reading it periodically while basking in the Dominican sun in between longer intervals of reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I'm obviously not a teen, but I do work with teens, so I am very interested in what qualities make some teens effective while others never seem to find success. I can not recommend this book to high school students strongly enough. In fact, I tend to think we would benefit from every student at PCHS reading it as a requirement for some class somewhere. It is available in the library if you are interested in reading it yourself.
The book itself is very easy to read. It is written into short, manageable sections with a lot of real-life examples to illustrate the concepts being addressed, and each chapter ends with baby steps a teen could take toward cultivating these habits. Honestly, anyone could benefit from cultivating these habits. They are universal; the way in which they are presented is simply targeted toward teens, but I digress.

The first habit is being proactive, and as I was reading this chapter, I realized that this may  be one of the more important things that great students do. Instead of their classes happening to them, they take control over their learning and their education. This is easily apparent when I grade student essays. There are some students whose final essay of a semester is obviously better than their first essay. These students are proactive. When they get the feedback from the first essay, they begin trying to figure out how to improve. They come talk to me or another teacher to get clarification on what a good essay should be, and then they continue this process for the entire course. The understand that the grade they receive is based upon how well they can produce an essay that meets the guidelines of the assignment and the structure of an academic essay. They are proactive. Other students are reactive. They take no steps to improve and keep letting the poor grade happen to them. It is amazing to me the number of students whose feedback and grade on the final essay is exactly the same as the first essay. These students are reactive. Here is the difference in responses to a poor essay grade from proactive students and reactive students:

Proactive:
-I got marked down for not having a thesis statement. I need to go talk to the teacher to figure out what they are looking for in a thesis statement and why my thesis doesn't measure up.
-I thought I incorporated enough support, but the feedback says it is lacking. I need to figure out how to more effectively incorporate support.
-I received a failing grade. I need to figure out what I need to do to earn a passing grade.

Reactive
-I got marked down for not having a thesis statement. Thesis statements are stupid. When will I ever need to write a thesis statement?
-I thought I incorporated enough support, but the feedback says it is lacking. The teacher is just mean and wants us all to fail. There is nothing I can do to improve.
-I received a failing grade. The teacher is unfair and out to get me.

Which approach seems more likely to lead to success? The fact of the matter is that life is hard. Accomplishing any goal is going to take trial and error. I do not know of a single successful person who hasn't hit a brick wall or two along the way. Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture (another book I think everyone should read), describes brick walls in this way:
                

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

This perfectly sums up the difference between proactive and reactive people. Proactive people encounter a brick wall and immediately start trying to figure out how to get over it, through it, around it. Reactive people complain about the brick wall and keep letting it stand in their way. 

If you have managed to stick with this post up to this point, I would like you to take a few moments of honest reflection to think about how you react to brick walls. Think about the last time you didn't find success at something, whether it was failing a test, doing poorly on an assignment, or not making the team/getting the part. What was your first reaction? Did you start coming up with reasons it was unfair? Did you start figuring out who (besides you) was to blame? Or did you start figuring out what YOU could do to ensure greater success the next time? Your answer well tell you what kind of person you are right now, but the great thing about life is that a reactive person can make the choice to start being proactive. In fact, making that choice is the first, most-important proactive decision a reactive person can make. If you are brave enough, share in the comments what you came up with in your honest reflection.

39 comments:

  1. The last time I did not have success at something I started to think negatively about it. I started to make excuses and come up with reasons how it was unfair. This blog has made me realize that from now on I need to take a different approach when I do not find success in something. I need to start thinking of ways that will ensure a greater outcome the next time.

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  2. When I first didn't find success at something I started thinking of a millions reasons why it wasn't my fault, who I could blame for not finding success, and how it was unfair. What I should've done was, figured out what I did wrong and thought of ways that I could better myself to find success the next time I try something.
    Briana Pearcy

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  3. It is hard for me to cope without success when doing something. I use to try to find a reason or more of an excuse for reasons why I didn't complete something. I use to blame it on other people for me not achieving a goal or completing a task. I need to blame myself and find out how to do something differently.
    Mariah

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  4. If I couldn't succeed at the things I was doing, I would blame it on everyone and anything other than myself. I need to learn to take the blame if I can't succeed and try to find ways to learn what I did wrong and get help with it so I can do better on the next thing I do,
    Jacob Buntain

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  5. Whenever I think about success and the things that I want to succeed in I think of what I myself can do in order to succeed. Usually, I do not let myself get to worked up if I don't succeed and I usually don't blame others for my failures. I work hard and try to succeed although coping with not succeeding can be difficult.
    Maddie Johnson
    2nd Hour

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  6. when I cant find success I see it as something I can improve on not something that brings me down. For example if I fail a test I go in and work on it to get better.

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  7. Your blog entry opened my eyes to the way I SHOULD be seeing things vs. the way i DO see things. I have a very reactive approach to my school work. I honestly feel as though there are times I do not care to succeed, I just want to get through the day. You are correct, every successful person has stumbled, gotten up and went on to succeed. Those failures actually make their success more enjoyable to them and more interesting to the outsider. I dont know that I was being 100% reactive, maybe 70% with a 30% lazy mixture. I do appreciate the point of view of the proactive approach. It shows me what I should be doing to make my work in all classes better. I will certainly be printing that list and using it to the best of my abilities.
    Dillan Dorjahn
    1st hour

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  8. First semester I really couldn't motivate myself to do anything school related. Senioritis was kicking my class and I was doing nothing about it. After Christmas break I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and started to get my work done ahead of time instead of procrastinating.
    Chandler 2nd Hour

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  9. When i hit a brick wall I try and get over it, sort of like eating the last piece of pizza. It hurts so bad, but once you eat it you feel like you have achieved something. At least that's how i look at it. I have been in your class all real and yes it can get hard, but that doesn't mean i'm going to stop trying. I wish that people would just try and understand that it take twice as much energy to procrastinate about something instead of just doing it.

    Biddle 1st Hour

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  10. I agree with the fact that life is hard and things get in the way and it is difficult, but I also look at it with the thought that things aren't as bad as they seem. Your class does get hard sometimes, but I really do want to try my best and get good grades and do my best in school.
    Marissa Langworthy - Creative Writing and Composition (2nd & 3rd hour)

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  11. When I do essays for you, I always do my best to get them done and get them done on time, but sometimes I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. I usually go to you or another teacher, but sometimes it was just senioritis. I've learned, especially since graduation is next Friday, that I need to start working a lot harder.
    - Jacob Buntain 2nd Hour

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  12. How would I react to a brick wall? Well, I would try to find a way around it and get over it. Things stand in my way every day. I ALWAYS try to get over that wall.

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  13. Reading a book about being a better student while on a tropical beach... there really Is something wrong with you. I really wish I would have read this blog a long time ago, and I still think I'm going to go check to see if the public Library has the seven steps to be a better student book, and I definitely agree that being assertive and proactive is Much better than just reacting to everything that happens. I'm definitely starting making the decision to start becoming a more proactive student opposed to a reactive one.
    Jonathan Murray - 2nd Hour

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  14. I believe that if I start to be proactive while I am young, I will be more successful in the future. I also would like to thank you once more for pushing me forward and believing in me.
    ^^

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  15. I am in the process of reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It is a great book that I would recommend to any other teen. It really has showed me that you have to take control of your life and not let life take control of you. You have to be in charge and proactively get around the hard events in life.

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  16. When I did not get the role I wanted in the fall play, I did not blame others. Instead, I took the rejection and used it as inspiration to practice more and to work harder on my acting. I took control of the situation, and went about fixing it proactively.
    Tyler Holbert
    1st hour

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  17. when i didn't get to go swimming the last few days when it was really hot, parents (especially my dad) didn't let me until yesterday when it wasn't even that hot.

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  18. I have recieved a bad grade and i am doing this to raise my grade up to a passing grade so i can pass this year.

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  19. this summer i hope i get hang out with my friends and to go swimming sometime just like when i was 12 i went to the old beach out near the twin lakes and also im doing this to help my grade.

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  20. With the sports i play (golf and tennis), i have the opportunity to gain my spots back if something happens. I feel like it is almost a good thing if something happens every once in a while because then that shows me that i need to work harder and i cant slack. it also shows that i should put the same amount of effort in all year long as i was when i needed to gain a spot back. as well as showing me how much of a risk i was taking messing around.

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    Replies
    1. this one was me^^ -Dawson Myers

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  21. Generally when I hit a brick wall, I think, darn that smarts!! lol Depending on the scenario, my initial first reaction is disappointment. Once I have time to think about it, I really do try to figure out what I could do better. I have been taught to make no excuses or blame others. p/s this blog was really long and yes... you did lose me a few times.

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  22. Usually whenever I hit a brick wall, I blame other people. Even though I know it was my fault. Usually I do this whenever I lose a game. I hate the feeling of losing and I guess I think its easier to blame other people instead of myself. I try to use this lose to motivate myself and my teammates to work harder next time. From now on I'll try my best to take the blame for things and not try to blame other people.
    -Sam Moore 8th Hour

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  23. I haven't always succeeded in the way I reacted towards things that life has thrown at me. In some personal situations, I was reactive. I didn't know how to get over the brick wall. I thought life was just purposely throwing things at me to hurt me. However, I did make the decision to be proactive and try to better understand why. I learned that those things didn't happen to me because it was just being rude. It happened to me because I needed to learn how to get around the brick wall. It was just trying to show me a good lesson, even if it may have been hard to understand at first.
    Lindsey Pitts, 6th hour

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  24. In 7th grade at the start of the basketball season, I didn't start the first three games. I pushed my self and got a starting spot. I realized, if you work hard enough for something you want, you can do anything.

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  25. Through my sophomore year i had to learn how to pick my game up and take it to another level if i wanted to play at the varsity level. I got that help through another player that has been playing varsity since his sophomore year but he graduated last year and i thanked him for pushing me to that part.

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  26. Usually, when I have trouble and hit a brick wall, I start to make excuses up or blame people, which I need to stop(New Years Resolution?) But after that, I try to change it around and make things up for it. I'm going to stop doing that for now on.

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  27. When i hit a brick wall i start thinking of excuses. Which is bad i should just own up to my mistakes. Freshman year i played football and i knew NOTHING about football so i didn't try very hard and didn't play much. Later on in the season i started trying and putting forth all my effort and i got a starting spot on the JV team..SO from Now on IM going to put fort effort at all i do.
    -Justin Stone

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  28. I'm not trying to say that I'm the most proactive student in the world, but judging off of the performance of some of my fellow classmates, I'm probably in the top ten. People will freak out over the most simple things, when I instead decide to fix them. It's not that big of a deal to screw up, what matters is if you can learn from your mistakes and fix them.
    -Blake German, 5th Hour.

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  29. I agree that it is better to be proactive than reactive. People who are reactive tend to get themselves in bad situations and proactive people tend to get things done.

    -Thomas Rozman

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  30. more students need to be proactive then reactive if you react before the thing is due you would get better grades and people who have bad grades are usally reactive-matt walker

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  31. When I do not exceed it is hard for me to pick myself up because I have dropped my self esteem so much throughout the years. it is difficult to bring it up because I try something and fail and that just brings me down farther I hope to be able to raise my self esteem soon

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  32. I need to learn not just to look at what I already achieved i need to improve like my grades. I have a couple A's but i need to improve my other grades to get them to my goals.
    -Alexis Miller

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  33. I didn't do good on one of my labs and I kept wondering, why is it like this. so when we got them back and looked at my work i realized that I messed up on the equation.. so I messed up for every one with that equation.. But I made sure to correct myself so for the text, I wouldn't get them wrong

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  34. i do feel a lot that i can do better but when faced with something i try and hide from it and wish for it to go away but i know it will not i need to try harder and better not stay in this hole im digging

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  35. To be honest, the last time I had not been successful, I was rather upset. I had received a D on a history test that I had thought I would have passed. I kept telling myself I should have studied, I would have gotten a much better grade than I have received.

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  36. When I hit a brick wall the hardest was my anxiety got really bad. At first I didn't know what was going on, but I knew that I didn't want to do anything because ii could breath and I shook lot and it felt horrible. When I finally got help with it I did everything g I could to make it better so I wasn't miserable doing everything.

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  37. Even though everything takes trial and error I need to work on actually redoing something and making it better. This blog prompt is very helpful in showing what to actually do instead of just getting mad about not doing anything and letting it be. I hope that while in college I become a proactive person trying to get over the wall and figuring something out and not just a reactive type of person.

    Brittany Smith - 6th hour

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  38. Honestly I switched schools midway through and blamed the school for my failings. I look back and realize that it is because I gave excuses, I didn’t put forth the effort so how could I expect any positive results. Had I done the work my grades would have been better. Had I proactively set goals I wouldn’t be scrapping by.

    Austin Fullerton 2nd Hour

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