Developing Capable Students

The Importance of Role Modeling

by H. Stephen Glenn and Michael L. Brock

One of the most powerful teaching strategies is that of "walking the talk"! A key to this asset lies in recognizing that we cannot change other people, not even our children; we can only change ourselves. However, in doing so, we offer a model for others to emulate.

What follows are twelve specific ways that we parents can role model effective behaviors for our children during their school years. In all cases, the emphasis is placed on the importance of "walking the talk" so that our children will witness the integration of actions and values that makes them more willing to learn from us.

1. Respect time commitments.

When we are on time for our many commitments-soccer practice, ballet class, movies, place of worship, school-we model the importance of respecting the needs of others. We model self-discipline and responsibility. We model respect for commitments. And we give our children the gift of a good habit, one that will be deeply appreciated by their friends and business associates for the rest of their lives.

2. Read . . . to yourself and to your children.

When we ourselves read, we model the importance of reading. Let your children see you read. Give them the gift of modeling the behavior by turning off the television, sitting down in the family room, and spending some time in quality reading.

And read to your children. Reading to our children accomplishes several things. Certainly, our children's reading skills are reinforced when we read to them. But much more important, reading to a child offers a very special opportunity to provide one-on-one attention, an attention that says "you are significant in my eyes; you are worthy of my time; you deserve this special moment with me."

3. Be discriminating in your TV viewing.

Is television the place where we want our children to find their role models? TV is a wonderful invention, offering entertainment, culture, news, and education to millions who otherwise would never have the opportunity. But as welcome as these benefits are, there are negatives, and we are becoming increasingly aware of them in recent years.

Our challenge as parents is not to solve the problem by throwing the television away. Our challenge instead is to gain control of television, to be discriminating in its use, to take advantage of the positive opportunities it presents, while remaining conscious of its potential problems. If we want our children to be discriminating in the use of television, we need to model that. We need to keep the TV off unless there is something specific that we want to see. We need to ensure that the TV does not dominate our households.

4. Project a positive attitude about school.

How we approach our children's school is in large measure a factor of the memories we have from our own schooling. If those memories are positive and empowering, we will communicate that to our children, and they will most likely approach their own schooling in a positive way. If instead our memories of school are unpleasant, we will communicate unpleasantness and fearfulness and negativism to our children, and their chances for success and happiness in school are by that degree diminished.

5. Show interest in your child's schooling.

Homework is your child's responsibility, not yours. But we can communicate to our children through our active interest that homework is

important and relevant. By engaging them in conversation about their homework-"What kinds of things do you have for homework tonight?" "What are your plans for doing your homework tonight?" "Teach me something that you learned in school today."-we show them that we are interested in their school lives and that we support them in their efforts. Further, we model the importance of homework when we make a point of doing our own "homework" in their presence. Whatever the nature of our work during the day, we probably have some work that needs attention after regular hours-I know teachers certainly do!-and doing that work, diligently if not cheerfully, in the presence of our children helps to further communicate the importance of attention to homework.

6. Model problem-solving skills.

An excellent rule in dealing with adults and children alike is "Always look for solutions, not for blame." Our usual first impulse when something goes wrong is to look for blame: Who did that? Who is responsible for that? Whose dumb idea was that?

But looking for solutions rather than blame shifts the focus to the 'what' rather than the 'who,' thereby freeing all involved to stand back and objectively review the situation. Looking for solutions rather than blame places no one on the defensive and no one on the offensive. It unites all in a common mission: looking for a solution to the problem.

7. Teach respect by being respectful.

Respect should be a given. It should be unqualified, given unconditionally. Respect should be something we are owed, by virtue of our humanity, not earned as a result of our satisfactorily living up to someone else's expectations.

We effectively model respect by sincerely showing that respect to our children and to everyone we meet. When Mom is shopping with her daughter, she models respect in how she speaks to the salesperson. When she takes her son to work, she models respect in how she speaks to her associates, particularly to those who work under her. When Dad is at his daughter's soccer game, he models respect in how he speaks to the coaches and referees. Simply put, we model respect continuously through our daily interactions with others. And our children learn respect from what they observe and receive from us.

8. Demonstrate respect for those in the teaching profession.

Lee Iacocca, as CEO of Chrysler Motor Company, once said, "In a perfect world, the greatest among us would become teachers...and everyone else would have to settle for something less. Because passing our history, traditions, and the keys to civilization on to the next generation ought to be, and is, the greatest honor and responsibility anyone can hold!"

When a parent's attitude and behavior toward educators and school generally is one of appreciation, optimism, and respect, children tend to adopt the same view. When we demonstrate respectfulness toward teachers, in our words and in our interactions with them, we complete the picture.

9. Teach family work by doing chores yourself

When children see parents actively "pitching in" to take care of what needs to be done, they tend to treat chores as significant. When all members (rather than just the children or Mom, as the case may be) take turns at tasks like doing dishes or washing clothes, a sense of equality and dignity with respect to work develops. When Dad, for example, comes home before Mom and takes care of tasks she usually does, Dad sends a message that he respects and values Mom's contributions enough to take them on himself when it will save her time to be with the family. Not a bad example for children who have the same opportunities!

10. Listen to children

Listening to children often means practicing the restraint of saying nothing and just waiting. Sometimes children don't talk to us because we monopolize the agenda, or invade their space with too many questions: "How was school today?" "Do you have any homework?" "Did you do your chores yet?" Effective listening often results from silence, which allows the child to advance the agenda and tell us what's on her mind. When we follow her agenda and resist the temptation to return to our own, we model effective and respectful listening, the foundation of effective and respectful communication.

11. Let there be love at home

Philosophers throughout the centuries have tried in vain to define love. Books have been written on the meaning of love. Perhaps a simple and somewhat universal definition might be: Love is "a whole lotta like."

When you love others you usually like them "a whole lot," want to be with them yet respect their occasional need to be alone, enjoy their conversation and yet respect their need for quiet, listen to them patiently and offer help when they request it. In short, you treat them "lovingly."

12. Be spiritual

If love is difficult to define, spirituality is even more so. Paul Tillich, a famous theologian, defined spirituality as "an active sense of identification with things greater than one's self...that gives life meaning and purpose." Under this definition, many things religious would not necessarily be spiritual. However, love, care, friendship, and concern for the poor, the homeless, and the earth, would essentially be spiritual in nature.

What is important here is not a specific faith that we may (or may not) have, but the demonstration that we are committed to something greater than ourselves and that we share this recognition with children.