One element that attracts many families to the idea of private school is the higher academic standards in the classroom. Most students are not challenged appropriately in public classrooms because there is simply not enough time or resources to devote to each individual student. The reality is that all students have potential academically that can be tapped into. The right type of classroom environment can draw out that potential and allow each student to thrive. However, some parents also consider the potential drawbacks of an academically challenging classroom. Is there too much stress and pressure put on students in a classroom with high academic standards? Will the stress have a negative impact on other areas of the student’s lives? These are important questions to ask because there is a balance that is needed between high academic expectations and student well-being. Fortunately, there are some private programs that design classrooms with high academic standards without creating a stressful environment.
Base academic standards on the potential of each child
A classroom with high academic standards will quickly become stressful if those standards are based off arbitrary factors. Each student is unique in abilities, potential, and life experiences. It simply does not make sense to base expectations or standards off of averages. Students above those averages will be stressed by the pressure of trying to behave in a classroom where they are constantly bored. Students who do not yet meet those averages will feel stressed as they struggle to catch up. The best way to design a classroom that has high academic standards without an undue level of stress is to base those standards of the potential of each child. Set individual expectations so that each student is pushed to reach his or her own potential. This individual approach allows for progress and mastery for each child, which are two important elements of high academic standards.
Focus on the long-term goals of education
It is stressful to be in a classroom with short-term academic goals. The stress that comes with scoring well on a standardized test is enough to cause serious anxiety for many students. On the other hand, high academic standards that are based on long-term goals do not create the same level of pressure or stress. If the long-term goal of education is to prepare students for success in life, the academic standards are still high but there is less time pressure. This leaves room for students to truly gain mastery over foundational topics and skills.
Give students options when it comes to learning
Students can meet high academic standards with much less stress when they have some choice in how they learn. For example, some students learn better orally, while others need to see concepts explained visually. An auditory learner can listen to an explanation of a topic and gain understanding. That process can feel extremely stressful for a visual learner. However, if you provide the visual learner with a diagram or written explanation of the concept, the stress is diminished, and mastery is much more likely. Giving students options when it comes to learning is a way to help each child meet the highest of academic standards with minimal stress.
High academic standards and a stressful classroom environment do not have to go hand-in-hand. There is always some level of tension when it comes to learning something new. In a well-designed program that tension can be something that students enjoy as opposed to something that causes distress. Take some time to observe a Montessori classroom and see for yourself how it is possible to have high academic standards without creating a harmful level of stress for students.