Teacher Reflections

How do Children Succeed?

A constant concern I have as an educator is the fact that I can usually predict what grade a student will earn at the end of the year after just a couple weeks. Namely, I can generally identify which students have the habits necessary to succeed as the school defines it.   However, this also means that I have done little to change the  trajectory of most of my students academic careers. 

This issue has bothered me for some time because I feel like if I haven’t significantly improved students ability to succeed I have done very little of importance. 

That is why I read How Children Succeed by Paul Tough with great interest. 

Although I was hoping for more practical and tangible suggestions of how to apply the ideas he uncovered during his research, Tough does provide a number of suggestions that couple be fruitful in my classroom. 

Below are notes I thought you might find interesting. 



  • Human response system is affected by stressful, crisis situations especially in childhood
  • Allostatic Load: Cumulative effect of stressful situations on a human
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences: ACE Score can affect your health
    • Score of 4 (incidents) or higher meant 51% had behavioral problems
    • “The part of brain most affected by early stress is prefrontal cortex, which is critical in self-regulatory activities of all kinds, both emotional and cognitive.”
    • Students who grow up in stressful environments find it harder to concentrate, sit still, rebound from disappointing, follow directions
    • This strongly affects executive functioning of brain
  • Parenting & attachment theory: Parents who were most attentive to their kids in their earliest years produced children who were more independent
    • Students with strong attachments were more self-confident, curious and able to deal with setbacks
    • More reliable predictor of success than IQ
  • “…psychological and neurological pathways is that they can be quite effective, more so than cognitive interventions”


  • Students who succeeded in college weren’t necessarily the ones who did best in high school but who had other gifts/skills: optimism, resilience, social agility, could recover from bad grades and resolve to do better next time
  • Self Control tips only work when people know what they want in the end….children don’t know they should want to go to college
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBTS “involves using the conscious mind to recognize negative or self-destructive thoughts or interpretations and to talk yourself into a better perspective
  • Good Habits
    • Best time to transform pessimistic students is before puberty but late into childhood so that they are metacognitive
    • Intervention for helping students develop the willpower to follow through on goals: MENTAL CONTRASTING WITH IMPLEMENTATION INTENTIONS (DUCKWORTH)
      • People use 3 strategies when setting goals, first two don’t work well:
        • Optimists-favor indulging, imagining future they would like to achieve
        • Pessimists-favor dwelling, thinking about all the things that could go wrong
        • Neither of these two were effective
        • Concentrating on a positive outcome and simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way”
        • Doing both at the same time “creates a strong association between future and reality that signals the need to overcome the obstacle in order to attain the desired future”
        • Next step is to create implementation intentions–specific plans in the form of if/then statements ex) “If I get distracted by TV after school, then I will wait to watch TV until after I finish my homework”
        • MCII has helped people eat more healthy, juniors prepare better for SAT and people reduce back pain
        • MCII amounts to setting rules for yourself, rules work because “you’re enlisting the prefrontal cortex as your partner against the more reflexive, appetite-drive parts of your brain”
        • Rules provide structure, preparing us for encounters with tempting stimuli and redirecting our attention elsewhere


    • If you’re trying to change a student’s character a teacher cannot just convey information
      • Need to encourage rigorous self-analysis
    • Chess players are pessimistic about the merits of particular move….they question it a lot. However, they are optimistic about their overall ability


  • GPA was a better predictor of success in college than ACT/SAT (which predicted IQ better)


What do you think of Tough’s ideas?


How do you think we  can develop the character traits in students that generally don’t find success in school?
Share This Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *