When It Comes to Your Child’s Learning, Do You Coach or Cheerlead?
Blog - June 1, 2017

When it Comes to Your Child’s Learning, Do You Coach or Cheerlead?
By Dr. Cornelius Grove

Just about every American parent feels pleased when their child shows early signs of doing well in school or feels concerned when their youngster lags behind. It’s all part of having “high expectations” of one’s child, one of several measures that authorities agree are important.

Is there anything new that American parents could learn from other parents whose children have compiled a long record of outstanding classroom learning? In short, yes. There’s a group of parents whose children have long been known as top students, and whose parenting approaches have been painstakingly researched. They are the parents of East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea.

From what we know about East Asian and American parenting, the key difference that emerges is this: Some parents coach their child. Some only cheer them on.

Cheerleaders, Coaches, and Athletic Success

Both cheerleaders and coaches are “for” their team’s on-field success, but their roles differ. Cheerleaders attend each game. They:

  • Deliver enthusiasm and high expectations for their team’s performance
  • Pump-up players’ confidence in whatever levels of competence they have
  • Provide self-esteem-boosting reassurance if the team isn’t winning
  • Work separately on their own unique routines between games

Coaches attend each game and all between-game practice sessions. They:

  • Deliver enthusiasm and high expectations for their team’s performance
  • Direct the players’ strategies and tactics for winning
  • Set and enforce rules for player health and behavior
  • Provide models; drill players repeatedly to assure high competence
  • Discipline players who don’t always work hard or master the basics
  • Directly criticize poor performance, analyze errors, retrain and redial
  • Regard team success or failure as their personal success or failure.

Cheerleaders, Coaches, and Classroom Success

When you review the research into how parenting affects a child’s school success, it’s easy to conclude that “coaching” captures the approach of East Asian parents, while “cheerleading” captures that of most American parents. The two words aren’t perfect, but they work pretty well. Compare the roles of cheerleaders and coaches in athletics with parents’ roles in supporting their classroom learners:

American parents are on high alert leading up to their child’s big exam. They:

  • Maintain enthusiasm and high expectations for their child’s performance
  • Pump-up their child’s confidence in whatever levels of competence he has
  • Provide self-esteem-boosting reassurance about the child’s weaknesses
  • Between big exams, attend largely to family and career issues, believing that the main responsibility for their child’s learning belongs to his teachers.

One reason cheerleading isn’t a perfect term is that some American parents do pay constant attention to the progress of their child’s school learning by, for example, taking an interest in their homework assignments and asking what was discussed in class. But here’s the thing: The more a parent pays constant, active attention to school learning, the more that parent is trending towards being a coach.

East Asian parents are on high alert about their child’s learning all the time. They:

  • Maintain enthusiasm and high expectations for their child’s performance
  • Supervise their child’s studying and his strategies for mastering the material
  • Set and enforce rules for their child’s use of time and choice of activities
  • Provide instruction, including their own practice and study assignments
  • Discipline the child if he fails to persevere or master fundamental skills
  • Focus on poor learning outcomes, analyzing errors and prescribing remedies
  • Regard their child’s success or failure as their personal success or failure

One point above needs more explanation: Focus on poor learning outcomes…Like Americans, East Asians are concerned when their child receives a poor grade. But there the similarity ends. American parents are likely to bolster their child’s self-esteem; they believe it’s important that he not lose confidence in his inborn abilities. East Asian parents diagnose the failure, then insure via extra practice that, in the future, that lack of expertise never reoccurs.

The Basic Difference Between American Parents and East Asian Parents

During their child’s earliest years, American parents typically feel responsible for jump-starting his learning. But once the child heads off to school, most Americans assume that his classroom learning is now largely his teachers’ responsibility.

East Asians view responsibility for a child’s classroom learning as belonging to the family. “The family” means:

  • Not the Teachers. In East Asia, teachers are important – and they’re deeply respected – but their responsibility is to carefully plan and deliver lessons that enable students to learn thoroughly.
  • The Whole Family. In East Asia, the entire family unites in regarding masterful classroom learning as its responsibility. A child’s persevering study is regarded as evidence of the family’s worthiness among its peers. The outcome of all that study – top marks – also demonstrates family worthiness.

Solutions for a child’s learning exists at the family level and these solutions depend on parenting style, especially how parents interact with  their children about their school learning. The next time you engage in your child’s education, remember to ask yourself, “do I want to coach or cheerlead?”

Dr. Cornelius Grove, managing partner of the consultancy Grovewell, is also an independent scholar and author of iconoclastic books on education including his latest, The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel. For more information, please visit, www.thedrivetolearn.info and connect with Dr. Grove on Twitter, @corneliusngrove.


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