Teaching Organizational Skills to Students Who Think They Don’t Need Them

by / Wednesday, 05 February 2014 / Published in Organization
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One of the most frustrating things in life is when you can clearly see when someone needs help or needs to change something, and you just can’t convince them that is the case.  This can be especially difficult for parents of students who don’t believe that they need organizational skills to be successful.

As adults, we know that having organizational and time management skills are an imperative for everyday life.  We know this based on our experiences– all the times that things have gotten overwhelming, all of the times that we’ve had to rely on the planning ahead that we did a month ago, all of the times that we got too many assignments at once from work and still were expected to finish all of them.  We know that “knowing the material” doesn’t mean anything at work if we haven’t completed our deliverables and that we will be held accountable for the things that we don’t necessary enjoy doing.  For kids, these experiences haven’t happened yet, and the whole idea of developing organizational skills can seem really pointless.

Organizational Skills: Why Some Students Don’t Value Them

Based on the calls that I get from parents in the Northern Virginia area, the most common “type” of kid who has difficulty accepting help is the kid who has always been a little bit ahead of their peers.  They got through elementary school without ever having to study or really take notes because the concepts are pretty easy for them.  They ace their tests without ever doing any homework, and their backpack is a whirlwind of papers from various classes.  All of their peers tell them that they are “the smart kid,” and they have developed an attitude that they are different than other students and therefore don’t have to do the same things to succeed.  They feel academically invincible and this comes to be a large part of their identity.

Although being ahead of their peers can seem like something to celebrate, it often causes secondary problems down the line.  Teachers and parents alike will let students maintain disorganized habits if they are still getting good grades because it doesn’t seem to be a priority or a major problem at that point.  However, these issues will eventually catch up with even the brightest student at some point.  If nothing else, they may be able to continue succeeding but may become very difficult for other people to work with.

Of course, if you are a parent, you probably already know this and may have attempted to tell your teenager that they need to learn how to organize themselves.  You probably told them about how you used to never study and then had that one class in college that forced you to do so in order to eke out a C and that you wished you had figured out how to study sooner.  You may have warned them about AP and IB classes that they will have in high school and all of the reading they will have to get done.  You may have bought color-coded binders and agenda books for them, offered to help them devise systems, and spent endless days arguing with them about doing their homework.  You’re probably pretty frustrated, and your child probably is too.

Teaching Organizational Skills to Resistant Students

The solution to this in many cases can be simple: you need some outside reinforcements!  Many teenagers are unwilling to take feedback from their parents.  They may see the discussion around organization as a power battle, and they’ll take advice much better if it is coming from someone who they are starting fresh with and who doesn’t have input in other aspects of their lives.  So many times I have heard that an Educational Coach is saying many of the things that the parent had said previously, and that the child is suddenly listening and implementing things.

The feedback that I’ve gotten from both parents and tutors is that sometimes students can be resistant to the idea of an Educational Coach.  Usually in these cases, the student starts to see improvements in their grades, or hears some positive comments from teachers, and eventually starts coming around on the issue.  It may take three or four sessions for the sessions to appear productive, but this is all a part of the process of getting a teenager’s buy-in.  Sometimes, they just have to feel like they were the one making the decision.

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