Want to know the secrets to being a “best” student? It’s not just straight A’s and brown-nosing

I read an interesting article recently. In an unscientific poll, KidsHealth.org (of the Nemours Foundation) asked about 3600 teachers what they feel makes the best student. The results were fairly obvious to a parent:

  • The student is willing to try his/her best every day. (26%)
  • The student is willing to ask questions when he/she doesn’t understand. (14%)
  • The student is polite and respectful to the teacher. (14%)


Parents -- helping your child to be a great student starts with you. Here are tips that will encourage your home to embrace positive student behavior

But I wondered if they were obvious to a student? Do our children know what a teacher really wants from them? I assumed most kids would probably answer “kids who get 100% on all their tests” or “a kid who always knows the answer.”

So I asked my kids and a few of their friends:

“What do you think a kid can do to make a teacher feel he’s the best student?”

6-year-old C says: “try your hardest to do the best job at everything she asks”
B, age 5.5 (Kindergarten):  ”I work hard.”
C, age 6: ”Coloring in the lines? And listening to your teacher. And not wiggling and squiggling around.”
C, age 8: “If they get good grades and listen and aren’t acting up.”
“Well, I don’t know…” thought C, age 9. “Working hard and concentrating.”
“Always doing what you’re supposed to and always listening and doing better than she expected,” W, age 6.
“Me” said E, age 7. When pushed further he added, “Do your work.”
“A student who listens and does whatever the teacher says.” said C, almost 8.
R, age12 says, “Someone who is smart.”
T, age 13 replied,  ”If you show them really cool youtube videos.”

Interesting, right? It seems like younger kids actually do know what is expected of them, better, perhaps, than we think they know. So what can we do as parents to insure our children are doing their best to be a “best student”?

Help your child be a “best student”

Free time

With everything kids have going on from the moment they step off the school bus to the second their heads hit the pillow, it’s hard to have time that isn’t scheduled. Including some free time in the day allows kids to go off-topic and let their minds wander. It helps them explore and learn a little more about themselves which, in the end, helps them focus on school when they need to be focused.

Get adequate sleep

You knew this was coming, right? Kids can’t focus and do their best if they aren’t sleeping. (We’re all parents. Think about how much trouble we have when we pulled all-nighters or got very little sleep.) I vividly remember trying to keep my eyes open in Spanish class the morning after I crammed for a history exam. Not only did I not learn a thing that day, but I’m fairly certain my teacher noticed my, um, lack of enthusiasm.

Healthy meals

Not just breakfast, but breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether your child takes a packed lunch or buys lunch, teach him or her about brain foods and balanced diets and how they impact the mind. When children understand why they need to eat something, they’re far more invested in doing it. Rather than just saying “eat your sweet potatoes because they’re good for you” explain that sweet potatoes help “to ensure a balanced and regular source of energy.”

Maybe we should all start eating sweet potatoes for breakfast.

Expect respect, and model it

Students don’t know respect until they learn it and observe it. It’s important that parents are respectful of teachers in front of their children as well as respectful of others. And when children don’t act respectfully, they need to be corrected so that they’ll learn to be respectful.

Consistently arguing and questioning authority leads a child to believe it’s the way things should be done. Rather, take time to listen, consider and respond thoughtfully in front of children so that they’ll learn to do the same.

Help your children to know it’s okay to ask questions

This is one of the most difficult things to teach your children. They’re often intimidated by their teaches and classmates, and no one wants to ask the “wrong” question. It’s even harder for kids who are shy. The best way to encourage asking questions is by modeling: asking a lot of questions yourself. And by reminding your kids that it’s okay to ask a question in school if you don’t understand something.

If your child is having trouble with concepts in school, it may be a good idea to add a question to the dinner table conversation: what question did you ask your teacher today? This will help her understand that you do expect her to ask questions. If she’s too shy or apprehensive to ask during class remind her that it’s also okay to approach the teacher and ask questions during a break or after class. Help your children to learn to clarify instructions, as well.

Here’s an insider teacher secret: we like the smart kids–sure–they’re great. But what we love are the ones who work to succeed. And every child, no matter how smart she is, can work to succeed even more than their usual best.

That’s a best student.


mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

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