The title of this article is kind of a misnomer. The bad news is there is no one secret to success in high school. At least not all the time. You can probably verify that with almost anyone who ever went to high school. The good news is there are some things that you can do to smooth out the whole high school experience, no matter what form(s) it takes during the current and post-COVID era. We can break it out into two distinct sections: things the student can do, and things a parent/guardian can do to help.
Things the Student Can Do to Help in High School:
Stop putting off the paper/homework/project
Yes, I can hear you protesting that you do your best work at the last minute. Bulletin: You probably don’t. And even if that were true, you wind up being at the mercy of those five or ten things you didn’t expect all happening at the same time that you’re “doing your best work.”
Isolate (a.k.a. “distractions are not your friend”)
This one goes hand-in-hand with procrastination. That same protesting voice that tells everyone you do your best work at the last minute usually also insists you’re a world class multi-tasker. Again, odds are, you are not. Or at least not quite as good as you think you are. The truth is, in most cases, you will get work done much more efficiently the more you close the door, and keep it closed. And as a bonus, it will probably also enable you to finish up said work in a much shorter time.
Studying only the night before a test will do precious little for you, beyond increasing anxiety, stress, and panic (we’ll talk more about those in a bit)
By making a plan and dividing the material into nightly, or even weekly sections, you will retain more, and make the newer material you study easier to understand. And further, if there is a section that gives you problems, rather than just plowing forward to the end, you can get help for that section, understand it, then proceed to the next, which will usually help general comprehension.
If you have a question, ASK
This one may seem the easiest suggestion, but for many students, it is the hardest. On the other hand, it may have the biggest upside when you are able to ask questions. I certainly won’t ever claim to speak for all teachers, but personally, I love it when my students ask questions. Especially my high school students. So much that you’re learning at that level involves brand new ways of thinking – new concepts, new information – every question that you don’t ask has the potential for bogging down your understanding of the next concept or section. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to figure it out yourself, but when you can’t get or figure out the answer, ask your teacher. Don’t want to ask in front of the class? Ask after class. Or email.
Stress and Anxiety (and their friend, Panic)
First, a disclaimer: I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or social worker. I am a teacher and a lifelong learner. This is not meant to be medical advice. All that said, I have experienced stress, anxiety, and panic, on both sides of the classroom desk. These are some of my observations.
- You can (and probably will) get stressed, anxious, and from time to time, downright panicky during your time in high school.
- Exactly what drives these feelings, as well as how they show up and what it looks like, will vary from person to person.
- There are some tried-and-true techniques that have been known to help. Many of them can be found in a useful article here. Some that I have personally used with good effect are:
- Listening to Music (Be considerate and plug in while you do)
- Progressive Muscle Relaxing (PMR) – It can look and sound silly, but it works well, especially when stress makes you hurt physically as well as mentally.
- Adjust your diet – This context is not about your weight, but about making sure that your carb intake is balanced with protein, so your blood sugar doesn’t spike and make you “crash.”
Things the Parent/Guardian Can Do to Help in High School:
Don’t be a Helicopter!
There really is a thing called a “helicopter parent” – a parent or guardian (we’ll call them all parents from here on) who hovers – oppressively, distractingly, annoyingly… you get the gist. Every teacher I’ve ever met with any experience in a classroom has horror stories of the helicopters he or she has encountered. There is apparently even a slightly modified version these days called “Lawnmower parents” – the difference, for our purposes, are negligible.
No one in education would hope a parent stays uninvolved in their child’s education. Teachers and administrators encourage and need parents to pay attention and be involved in how and what their child learns, especially in their high school years, when so many changes are challenging those students.
But the other end of that spectrum is too much help. Sometimes a parent can “help” their son or daughter so much that whenever they run into something they can’t do immediately, mom and/or dad will do it. Sometimes it manifests in parents “helping” a student because of competition for grades, test scores, or college admissions. Regardless of the motivation, be it selfish or protective, helicoptering can be nearly as damaging as neglect.
How do you know if you are hovering around helicopterism? Ask. Ask your child’s teacher. Ask your child’s counselor. Ask your child’s principal. Ask your child. Somebody will tell you if you are. Probably. And in case they won’t, just be aware it exists, and make sure it’s not you.