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It’s not uncommon for a middle or high school student to get off to a rocky start during the first quarter of school. Generally, these types of rough starts are accompanied by high levels of stress, building pressure, a mountain of incomplete work amassing, and, sometimes, giving up. There often is backwards momentum: the worse a student’s school performance gets, the worse that student’s effort and motivation can get. This is a really tough spot for a student to be in and can begin to compound.

Here’s the big question: how can this downward momentum be reversed? In most cases, it isn’t going to happen overnight; it takes a whole process to return to a fully-functioning, firing-on-all-cylinders learner. There must be a clear plan that is put in place that has a few components.

Identify clear and concise changes that can happen. It is often better to start with a one week time period. This allows for a realistic, manageable change, but also provides a finish line: a goal that must be met by the end of each week. Strategizing can involve many different interventions, or changes, that need to be take place. That can apply to areas like organization, time management, getting started (not procrastinating), developing plans, choosing a specific place to complete work each night, and on and on. A strategy can even revolve around sleeping, exercising, eating, or being on time. These strategies are much more effective when they are student-created instead of mandated changes. Giving a student the space and freedom to come up with strategies on their own will be much more effective.

Put the strategies and interventions into place. This will take monitoring and support to help students maintain some level of consistency. Frequent, nonchalant check-ins may be needed in order to help students start to make these positive changes. Again, the student should dictate what these check-ins look like. Let them tell you what they’re comfortable with. This can decrease arguments and power struggles in the home. Depending on the student’s needs, they may even need some supervision in order to get started or complete work. The goal is for them to implement the changes that they laid out and to have some small victories week to week. 

This is very important. A student must evaluate and assess their implementation. This can end up being a positive or negative process. Regardless, students must be able to have the self-awareness to discuss how their week went. It is important to identify what worked, what didn’t work, and what areas can be tweaked, adapted, and changed. This step will create self understanding and start to shift a student towards a more growth-based mindset. It will help establish that feedback, criticism, and praise as a typical part of the improvement process.

This process needs to be continued each week — over and over and over. Eventually, students should begin to have some victories and start to build consistency, routines, and systems that they are able to maintain independently. The focus must always be on short term, manageable changes. 

As Katniss Everdeen said in Mockingjay, “It takes 10 times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.” This ratio may not be exactly true for struggling students, but it is representative of the process and steps that need to be taken to bounce back from a rough first quarter. It will be a process, and it will involve incremental improvement each week.

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