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Nudging Students for Success: The Importance of Persistence

“Do your homework.” “Get good grades.” “Think about your future.”

We all remember the chorus of demands our parents and teachers heaped on us growing up. At the time, many of us simply rolled our eyes. As if we needed to be reminded for the umpteenth time about the delicate state of our future.

Of course, in hindsight, much of that advice proved to be mostly on point. In fact, many of us are guilty of passing along the same cautionary advice to our own children.

But if you’re worried that nagging kids might turn them off, don’t be. New evidence suggests that the more adults “nag” students about academic performance, the better.

Writing for Brookings Institution, Jacob Murray, faculty director of professional education at the Boston University School of Education, explains it this way:

One of the key ingredients to student success is engaged parents. While there is considerable debate on just how much parent engagement influences student outcomes, there is significant research to suggest that parents who consistently and “positively nag” their children to complete their academic work and give maximum effort, supplement school instruction with their own activities (e.g. reading to their child), and communicate and partner well with teachers are more likely to promote student success than parents who do not offer these supports.

No question that strong parent engagement is critical to student success. Unfortunately, not every student has a parent or adult capable of providing the support that’s needed to succeed.

So what can schools do to promote parent involvement, or at the very least, provide students with more adult encouragement?

Murray highlights two strategies that schools can deploy to ensure students receive just the right amount of nagging, or, uh, encouragement.

Equip parents to support their students
According to Murray, there are three main ways parents can spur student achievement:

  1. Encourage kids to finish schoolwork and always do their best.
  2. Supplement schoolwork with extracurricular learning, such as reading together.
  3. Build strong relationships with classroom teachers and support them.

But what happens when parents can’t provide that support?

For single parents, finding the time to be properly involved in their child’s learning represents a constant struggle. Other parents may not have a complete understanding of the work their students are doing, or the academic proficiency, to effectively support them.

With the number of single-parent families nearly doubling over the last 35 years, schools need to equip parents to encourage students.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do that:

  • Schedule home visits by administrators or teachers, to make sure parents and students feel engaged.
  • Provide opportunities for parents to attend classes and understand what their students are learning in school. Parent University at Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Md., is a good model.
  • Start a simple conversation with parents and students, whether in-person, online, or in a group meeting. And give parents an easy way to get in touch with teachers and school leaders.

If parents still can’t nag, find others who can
It’s unfortunate, but sometimes parents just can’t be as supportive as they or you might want them to be.

But even that’s no excuse.

Writes Murray: “I propose a novel solution: enlisting other adults to positively nag children about their school work, engage them in supplemental skill-building activities, and communicate with their teachers.”

Murray suggests enlisting retired teachers or other valued community members to conduct quick online or in-person check-ins to make sure students stay on top of their work. And to make sure they connect with teachers to see what further support students need.

Such a support system would work differently for each community. It could be a simple phone tree or a more comprehensive system that uses online coaching software to help mentors and students collaborate and connect.

Ask parents, students, and others how best to sustain student achievement. And use that feedback to develop a new system of reinforcement and positive “nagging” for students.

Do you have a community-support system in place to encourage student achievement? How do you nag your students? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for new ideas about how to engage your community. Start a conversation today.