Our Kids' Success at School

Several years ago, I was invited to appear on the popular ABC Network talk show, Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, in the old days before Kelly, to discuss the topic of success for kids going back to school. As we end the summer, I thought it might be appropriate to think back on that experience.

The producer of my segment called me the night before my appearance on the show and asked me to come up with five tips for success at school that would be of universal application for high school kids, as well as our college students. I now have nine pieces of advice for any student. Because I think that these points are worth anyone's pondering, and I believe that they are based on insights that have utterly general application to business and life as well as school, I decided that I would lay them out briefly here. We need to pass them on to our children. Feel free to copy, paste and email these to your children, or to any students you'd like to help. But we also need to reflect on how they apply to our lives as adults.

They know enough who know how to learn.
- Henry Brooks Adams (1838 - 1918)

1. Think Success
Any learning situation has to be approached with success in mind, just like anything else that matters. School in particular is not just preparation for life - it's the real thing.

2. It's all about Growth
True success is not about being better than other people, an ancient piece of Eastern Wisdom says, it's about being better than your previous self. It's a process, not a destination. So is education. The process of learning should be life long. Education is the fuel of personal growth.

3. Set Goals.
Too many students have no clue what exactly they're expecting to result from the coming school year. All of education should be about discovering talents, developing those talents, building good relationships, and learning how to make a positive contribution to the world. Anything less is a waste of time. Always remember that small goals can add up to big results.

4. Get to Know Your Teachers
All lasting success is rooted in good relationships. Relationships rule the world. Students in high school or college should go see their teachers after class. They should really talk to them, and not just act like human tape recorders. In any learning situation, get to know your teachers as people. You'll understand them better and they'll understand you better. And, as a result, you¹ll learn more than anyone expected.

5. Action is the Key
Education is not a spectator sport. Students have to become active participants in the process. There's an old saying, "Sleeping in a garage won't make you a car." Sitting in a lecture hall, seminar room, or old fashioned classroom won't make anyone an educated person. Get active in putting together your own curriculum. Find out who the great teachers are. Study with them. Regardless of the subject matter, you'll learn things that will stay with you for life. Participate actively in class. Ask questions. Read actively. And discuss your classwork with fellow students, except, of course, during an exam.

6. Take Notes Wisely
Most students either take too few notes or take too many. I've had semesters where the students took so many notes, I just saw the tops of their heads. One year, a group of them with hand cramps got together and said, "Professor Morris, Help us! We're taking too many notes!" I responded, "OK, I have a simple solution for you: Stop taking so many notes!" Half of them looked stunned, the other half wrote down "Prof. Morris says stop taking so many notes". Learn to make quick judgments on what's important and what's not. Listen for the simple core of any story. A word or two can remind you of a whole line of reasoning later in the day. Leave spaces in your notes to fill in later, when you take the next piece of advice.

7. Take a Six Minute Study Break
Each day, for each of your courses, take a six minute study break. What I mean is: Take a break away from everything else and STUDY! Too many students don't understand what study is. I say, "Hey, where are you going?" They respond "To the library to study", when actually they're going to the library to read or write, or even just to see who's there. Study is review, analysis, and memorization. It's not just reading. And it's certainly not just staring into space, or socializing with friends. It is a distinct set of activities. Six minutes per course per day, with an average course load of five courses means thirty minutes a day of pure study. That's not a lot, but it's enough to do the trick, and make the next piece of advice possible to follow.

8. Don't Worry, Be Happy
It's natural to be a little nervous about a new school year, it's normal to worry about a test. A 300 pound football player once came into my office shaking like a leaf. He said "Professor Morris, I'm so WORRIED about the test tomorrow! I'm SCARED!" I said, "That's OK, that just means you've got a level of energy going about the test. It's up to you how you use it. Don't let it shut you down. Surf on it, ride it. Let it give you an edge.

9. What Really Matters
True success in college, or high school, is not necessarily preparation for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". What matters most is discovering and adopting the lifestyles of the wise and happy. All education, all learning situations, should in one way or another be subordinated to this ultimate end.

Practical Generalizations

It doesn't take much to see the general application of these points for our business activities, or any personal challenges we face. There is no human endeavor where questions of success and failure are utterly irrelevant. The more important a situation or relationship is, the more success in that situation or relationship matters.

We ought to look at any activity as potentially related to our personal growth. We are either growing or diminishing in everything we do. And, with that in mind, we ought to always have goals toward which we are working.

Among our goals, healthy relationships should be paramount. Relationships do indeed rule the world. Build positive relationships with the right people and the right projects will come. "People before projects" should be our general rule.

Action is the basis of all achievement. Energy is the fundamental natural reality. And energy must be deployed if it's to make a difference for good. Patience and passivity can have important places in life, but always and only within an overarching context of activity.

I have known many who could not do it when they would, for they had not done it when they could.
- François Rabelaise (c.1494- c.1553)

Notes and study are not just for our school years. No one makes a big difference in this world without engaging in an ongoing process of learning. Whenever ideas strike you or you come across a passage in a book or a newspaper article relevant in any way to your work, or to your personal life, clip it or write it down in a journal, or notebook, or folder, and keep it for future reference. And periodically study these notes. Don't just be a packrat collecting ideas like nuts or string. Analyze what you've come across and commit the most important of those ideas to memory. They will enhance how you think and interact with others. They will also provide a grid for collecting more and more helpful ideas, and will, in a number of ways, even draw people to you who can help you in your quest, whatever it might be.

Whenever you're put to the test, don't worry about worry. Any performance situation can generate some measure of anxiety. Use nervous energy to give you an edge. Be glad that you care, and that you have the extra energy level that a sense of nervousness reveals. Remember, no one else knows how you feel inside. They just see what you do. And a little bit of nervous energy can enhance that immensely. Smile and be glad that you're emotionally worked up and that you care about what you're doing. Then do it well!


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