5 Ways We Are Holding Back Our Students

We’ve all got bad habits and students have more than some. It comes with being young. There are still so many life skills to learn. Of course, it isn’t just the student’s fault. There are plenty of times when it isn’t them but their surroundings that are holding them back. After all, we can do a lot more to teach them the skills they need to thrive in this world.

And sure, their home environment should play a bigger role. We get the kids only a few hours a day. They get them the rest of the time. At the same time, we can’t mistake ‘ought’ for ‘is’ and have to play with the cards we’re dealt. Those are that teachers and principles have become responsible for a lot of these things.

So what are some of the biggest things we’re doing wrong?

Leaving things too abstract

The truth is, schools often keep things far too abstract. They teach the theory without bringing it back into the student’s lives. But that’s not what I meant with that headline. What I meant is that we can help our students fight their procrastination more effectively if we just teach them the power of effective scheduling. The first step along this road is simply to put specific time frames on the projects students have to be completed.

The reason that teaching them to set times for their assignment is that it gives them far less psychological space to push things back than saying ‘I’m going to do it this week’ or even ‘I’m going to do this tomorrow’.

If they talk about doing something tomorrow, then when the morning rolls around they can push it back to the middle of the day. And from there it’s a short distance to the evening. And of course by that time they’re tired and decide that they’re better off doing things the day after that. Rinse and repeat until the deadline is 12 hours away. 

If you get them to commit to starting ‘at 10 AM tomorrow’ then that becomes a lot harder to do, for once 10:30 rolls around, you know you’re late and that will give you a nice psychological push. So teach them to schedule concretely. Even better, get them to write it down – as that creates more commitment External link .

Teaching them that willpower is the route to success

Common culture has this idea that successful people become successful by relying on willpower to push away temptations and distraction. The research, however, says different External link . They say that the trick to actually getting things done is to avoid temptation. Make sure that you can’t actually get to it easily and then you are far more likely to be able to keep going.

And that makes sense. The brain might best be considered a muscle. The more strain you put on it, the more quickly you’ll tire it out. And sure, it might get stronger over time, but over time being the operative phrase. Students need more endurance right now, as it is during high school they decide how the rest of their lives will largely be decided.

Instead, the strategies we should teach students is that of temptation avoidance. Help them learn how to temporarily avoid distraction and use such powerful tools as site blockers to keep the overbearing distractions of modern life at bay for those few hours they’re studying at least. 


Cramming has this mythical reputation among students. Put everything that you were trying to learn over a semester in the space of 48 hours, somehow pass your exam and look like a hero to everybody around you.

Of course, the reality is different. Cramming is a hugely ineffective. It both hurts your chances on exams External link  and makes it hard for you to remember anything longer than a few days. That’s because the key to learning is repetition. Sure, kids won’t like that. But it’s true. What’s more, getting them to understand that will make learning a far easier enterprise.

What’s more, if they can learn appropriate learning strategies early, they’ll be able to master the ins and outs of most professions relatively easily and not left with a huge deficit somewhere in the field of their chosen profession.

Here I don’t mean the practice of going over all the stuff before an exam. Here I’m talking about the action of relying only on that way of studying to try to learn a subject. There are a lot of people who rely almost exclusively on pushing everything back until the deadline is almost upon them and then working in a flurry of caffeine-fueled anxiety to get things done before the deadline hits.

The thing is, that’s not terribly effective. Not only are you going to do worse on exams and papers, you’re also going to remember far less of it. That’s because the human mind requires repetition to remember something for the long-term. And that’s going to be a drawback in whatever profession you pursue.

Letting them isolate themselves

It’s understandable. Some students withdraw as the pressure mounts. They pull back from their social life so they can invest more time in their studies. And sure, for some kids that’s certainly a good idea. Extra study time can be helpful – particularly for those who weren’t doing enough to begin with.

The thing is, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And isolating oneself from everybody and not having a social life in order to study is a perfect example of that. That’s because our student’s state of mind is an important part of their success and isolation does not lead to a good state of mind.

For that reason, we should follow the suggestions of the Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor in his book the Happiness Advantage External link . We should make sure that our students don’t pull back so far from the world that our state of mind deteriorates. 

Promoting healthy activity

Dualism is alive and well, with many people still convinced that the mind is not the same as the body. And there are lots of reasons we hold to this kind of thinking. The problem is, it does not change the fact that the mind and the body are not two separate things.

This means that if the body isn’t healthy, the mind isn’t as well. For that reason, it is vital that we push students towards healthier behaviors. There are many ways we can do this we can:

  1. Promote exercise.
  2. Push for healthier food options in our schools.
  3. Raise awareness of health issues.
  4. Create an environment in which being healthy isn’t just something we should do, but which people enjoy doing.

Last words

School can make and break us. Some of take away a love of learning that aids us for the rest of our lives. Others walk away with a hatred of books and the people who write them that never goes away.

Of course, we can’t change every person from the latter into the former category. But the more we can, the more people we help and the more useful people’s schooling will have been. With the above suggestions that’s exactly what we’ll end up doing.