Business Lessons from Back-to-school Night

October 2, 2018

It's experiences, not grades, that shape tomorrow's leaders

My twin daughters began their high school career this year. Like so many of you, last week I attended back-to-school night. For those of you who don’t have kids or aren’t familiar with the term, this is one night after school (without your child/children) when you “walk” their schedule, meet their teachers and understand what they’ll be exposed to throughout the year.

I really enjoy this evening. I like learning what lies ahead for my kids and it helps me stay connected to them. It gives me context for questions I can ask them over dinner (questions my kids usually don’t answer, but at least I feel informed asking them). It also allows me to reflect as a parent on what I hope my children will learn.

Some of life’s best lessons are beyond the books

This year, as I sat in their classrooms, walked the halls, listened and observed, I concluded a lot of what my kids will learn in high school will not be found in books alone. Some of the most impactful lessons they will be exposed to include:

  • Their religion teacher spoke about “identity.” It made me think of self-reflection, mindfulness and really understanding who you are. You can’t just read about that; you have to think about it, play with it and honestly ask yourself, “Who am I?” After graduating high school 35 years ago, I’m still trying to figure this out.
  • Their World Cultures teacher spoke about the importance of exploring “context” before teaching about the region. This means understanding the weather/climate of a region, its natural resources, and how that provides context that would help the students appreciate the economy and customs of the region they were learning about. Context is so important in leadership. If you understand context, you can communicate in a way that provides relevance and understanding to those who are listening.
  • Their English teacher spoke about various forms of writing.  She expressed a desire to hear from our daughters. She asked all parents that we tell our daughters to talk in class, express themselves and engage in conversation. She stressed it’s not a matter of being right or wrong, but the objective is to have them comfortably share their thoughts and beliefs. It was clear to me she was emphasizing the importance of “voice”—helping our girls find a voice that’s uniquely their own. Sure, grammar will be taught and enforced, but I walked away inspired that they will be encouraged throughout the year to express themselves, get their thoughts out, and learn how to be strong, confident, honest and vocal.

I tell my daughters the same thing I tell the executives I coach: Chase experiences, not grades/titles.

I met many other teachers with equally important messages. Messages that go beyond books and grades … ones that focused on learning through life, learning based on experiences, and learning organically through engaging conversations, sports and clubs. I realized my girls will learn more just by being active members of their high school community than by sitting in a classroom. And I tell my girls the same thing I tell the executives I coach: Chase experiences, not grades/titles. Always do your best but focus on learning. Sometimes that will be an “A” and sometimes it may be a “C” or even an “F.” The point is that I don’t think your grade or title will be the only reflection of your learning.

Pursue experiences

High school has changed a lot since 1980 — and I think for the better. It seems to have a better handle on fostering learning through inspiration and not judgment. They still grade, but I think overtime that could change, just as I think compensation methods in the business world still need to evolve. But also they balance that grading with a dose of inspiration around the excitement of engagement and building a safe and interesting community of learning. Basically, they’re becoming more focused on growth and progress and not solely on the end result.

The world of education and the world of business are both trying to break from a judgement zone to a learning zone. It’s exciting to witness and to be a part of it. We’re only at the beginning of this evolution and we all have the power to drive it forward. As a parent and a leader, find your voice and continue to drive positive change with a focus on personal growth.

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