By Craig Ihrke

Caledonia Area Schools Superintendent

I recently sent a message to all school employees reminding them of the importance of “Productive Struggle”. Productive struggle is both a thing children need to experience, and a place they need to reside. The road to productive adulthood is bumpy. We need to help children see the way, but not pave the way.

Those who work in schools are supposed to help students. However, the best educators are the ones who help children help themselves.

When I think back to my favorite teachers, it seems they would often answer questions with questions.

“Wow! That is a great question. What do you think?”

“Oh, yes, that is a tough math problem. Good luck. If you can’t figure it out, maybe you could work with your classmate to see if they can help.”

Rather than telling you your answer is wrong, they would validate your thinking by saying something like this.

“I see what you were doing in this math problem. You did some great work here. Let’s look at the question and see if you answered what was being asked.”

The best educators in my life (I include my parents and coaches in this group.) encouraged and challenged me.

“You are doing well. Keep trying.”

“You may see this as a setback, but hang in there, you are close.”

We have to be careful as parents and educators to avoid the temptation to help too much. We need to encourage, question, and challenge our children. We need to help them up when they fail and encourage them to try again.

When running late for church, it is often easier and faster to tie our child’s shoes, but are we really doing them a favor by doing so? Looking back, maybe this is one reason my family was often late getting to church on Sundays.

Great educators help students help themselves. They allow them to engage in productive struggle and help students be persistent with difficult problems. They build stamina in our students. I am proud to say our educators do a great job helping our students help themselves.

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