Do you remember that awful feeling of bringing home a report card that had a disappointing grade on it? The dread of having your parents focus right in on that grade and asking, “So what happened in ___________?” And then the shame that followed when you tried to explain what happened in ___________? Yucka-mucka.

My son had more than his share of this, poor thing, at least until ninth grade. That’s when, hallelujah for both of us, I brought my new skills in strengths coaching and strengths-based leadership to the conversation.

At the end of that term, we’d asked him about his report card a couple of times and gotten sort of vague replies. We wondered if maybe the school was planning to mail the reports, as it sometimes did. Eventually, though, he brought the slightly-crumpled envelope to me, looking totally uncomfortable. I could tell it had probably been another rough term in math or biology, his least favorite subjects.

He started explaining what had happened in those classes even as I was opening the envelope. But I stopped him. This time, I said, we were going to do this differently.

What Different Looks Like

We started at the top. “That’s a fantastic mark in creative writing,” I began. “Tell me what’s happening in that class.” Curious, but visibly a little more relaxed, he started describing what they’d done that term. With a little prompting, he then told me why he liked his teacher, what he enjoyed about the work itself, and why he thought he’d done so well.

Then we moved onto his next-highest grade. Then the next, and the next, until we got to math and biology. By that time, when Max told me what was going on, we were in a decent space together. We were more comfortable talking about those classes than ever before. He had opened up about things that he liked and felt good at, the kind of learning environment he thrived in and what came naturally to him. So I was able to suggest ways he could leverage some of that — creativity, teamwork, friends in the same class, curiosity — to make math and biology easier.

I also offered to get him a math tutor, but instead of saying it because I thought he needed to improve his grade, I suggested it because it was clear that he preferred a team learning environment and that one-on-one support with the things he struggled with was much easier than asking those two particular teachers for help in class.

I’m an avowed foe of perfectionism because it causes our children so much stress, and believe that a straight-A standard shouldn’t necessarily be applied to everyone. School is so different from the real world, too — when you graduate, you’re able to focus on where you shine. But while our kids are in school, and required to take — and pass — certain classes, let’s support them by showing them we believe in them and that they have natural strengths and external resources they can use to do as well as possible in any class.

An Important Perspective

Anyone can get better at anything. That’s the premise of neuroplasticity, or the idea that our brains are growing and changing and capable of learning new things at any stage of our lives. So rather than saying that someone is, for instance, “bad at math,” it would be more accurate to say that anyone can do better, given the right circumstances.


Max is now in college, taking psychology as a major and film production as a minor. He’s playing to his strengths of creativity and curiosity, interest in people and long-time love of stories and video. He was intimidated when he learned that math and science are required for psychology majors, but believed in himself — and was passionate about the subject — enough to go for it. Maybe his maturity, and the fact that we never made him feel he couldn’t do math, have helped. Either way, he’s doing great.

What’s report-card day like at your house? Have any ideas you could share with others? Post below!

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