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One Reason Students Quit and What To Do About It

Today, we hear from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a next gen researcher, speaker, and author for Growing Leaders. 

I met two students recently who painted a perfect picture of the struggle that we all face . . . when trying to make leaders out of the next generation.

I was speaking to a group of students at a school in Georgia. They actually came to school during their vacation! They came to get leadership training so they could host support groups for the new freshman entering their school this year. Each student was dripping with enthusiasm at 9 am—even though their classmates were still on vacation, sleeping, or playing video games.

After I finished speaking, a young woman came up to me, wanting to learn a little more about some of the things that I shared. She was poised, looked me in the eye when she spoke, and she was very interested in continuing to learn and grow as a leader. I knew something was different about her so I started asking questions. She is near the top of her class in academics, but still had time to start a new club at her school, and raise money for a cause that she believes in. All of this, of course, while she is preparing for college. It’s her senior year, after all. I was amazed at both the work ethic and poise that this young woman showed in our conversation.

A few weeks later I met a young man whose life is telling a different story. He’s 23 and dropped out of college after his first year. He said college can only take you so far—but it doesn’t seem like being out of college is helping him much either. He has a couple of jobs that help him make ends meet, but he doesn’t seem to have much direction. He doesn’t know where he will be in five years, and frankly, I wonder if he cares that much.

We all could put a face on both of these students, because I am sure that you know young people just like them. We look around at the students we are mentoring and can’t tell why some students get up every day ready to take on the world, while others seem to have given up before they ever really got out of bed. How does this happen? How do two kids who are a part of the same generation, go to the same school, or even have similar backgrounds end up at opposite ends of the spectrum?

This is a problem in our culture—not just in a classroom or on the practice field. One Gallup report showed that as many as 18% of American workers are actively disengaged in their daily work. These workers are not only ignoring their responsibilities, they actually “roam the halls spreading discontent” among co-workers. Quitting, or what we might call ‘active disengagement,’ is contagious.

Stop and ask yourself: Is active disengagement a problem in your classroom, locker room, or office? How so?

Is it possible to diagnose this problem? And what can we do about it? Some might observe this issue and assume that quitting is a result of one’s personality. While I am sure that personality is a factor, I am equally sure that it cannot be the ONLY factor. Not having purpose, direction, or drive is a problem that is much, much deeper. But recent statistics show, the answer is in a place where you might not be looking.

If you want to know what makes students quit, you just have to ask yourself one question: Are my students emotionally intelligent?

Emotional Intelligence is something that we’ve talked a lot about here, but I bring it up again because of new data that is connecting emotional intelligence with drive. Drive is the thing that makes you want to engage with daily tasks—even the ones you despise—because you know it’s good for you. That intangible drive factor is rooted, as it turns out, in your emotional intelligence. We’ve said before that emotional intelligence is made up of 4 factors:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

Today, scientists are adding a 5th factor: motivation. In his “mixed model” of measuring emotional intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman has identified motivation as a key factor in emotional intelligence. What does this mean for our students? It means that if your students struggle with the other four factors of emotional intelligence, there is a good chance that they struggle to find motivation as well.

In a recent meta-analysis of high level leaders in business, one report found that “people who are more adjusted, sociable, ambitious, and curious are much more likely to become leaders.” This means that your students who lack basic social skills will also soon become your students who fade further and further back out of the spotlight. If you want your students to increase their motivation in your classroom, you might want to start by helping them develop their social skills.

This is one thing we see happen all the time when schools begin to utilize our Habitudes® program school-wide. When students enter into regular discussion times with their teachers and peers, increasing their social skills, it almost always follows that there is a drop in the student detention rates. We would love to point to the words on the page as the incentive for the change, but we know that, especially in this case, the method (classroom discussions) is just as important as the message (character and leadership).

So how are you providing opportunities for students to increase their social capacity? Let me offer a few suggestions.

1. Consider turning your next assignment into a group project. Of course you want your students to learn what is necessary to pass your class, but turning their work into a group project work can be a great way to motivate them to begin to listen better and to work with their classmates.

2. Have students listen and take notes from one another for a grade. One great way to teach students to listen is to have them take notes while another student is giving a presentation, and then grade them on how thorough they were while listening.

3. Spend time moving your classroom from rows to circles. One of the reasons people love Habitudes is because it allows them to break up the monotony of sitting and listening to one person talk. Try transforming those rows into circles and watch as students engage with one another.

What ideas do you have for increasing more intentional social time in your setting? Leave a comment and share your methods for others to use!


New Book: Marching Off the Map:
Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World

Our new book is now available for preorder! Leading today’s students often feels like being in a new country with old maps that don’t work. Understanding and connecting with the generation in this land is often times frustrating and draining. We need new strategies on how to march off our old maps and create new ones.

This new resource collates decades of research and experiences into one practical guide that helps adults:

  • Inspire students to own their education and their future
  • Lead students from an attitude of apathy to one of passion through metacognition
  • Enable students to push back from the constant digital distractions and practice mindfulness
  • Raise kids who make healthy progress, both emotionally and intellectually, through their teenage years
  • Give students the tools to handle the complexities of an ever-changing world
  • Understand and practically apply the latest research on Generation Z

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1 Comment

  1. Erika Brennan on July 11, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    A few ideas we use with our college golf team is that we have a “One Conversation” rule at meal times. This is a technique I picked up from Michael Hyatt. Only one conversation is allowed at meals. This prevents side-bar chats and makes the discussion more cohesive.

    We also only allow about 10 minutes for recapping the day/tournament round. After that, we move on to a topic that is open-ended and designed to make them pause and think more intentionally about the future. “What’s your post college plan?” “What would you do if money weren’t a factor and your talent was limitless?” those types of questions.

    During team sessions, I try to engage everybody and work to draw out responses from those who aren’t as actively participating. Sometimes, I’ll pair them up 1 on 1 with another student-athlete who is extremely engaged. They seem to find common ground quickly as “a rising tide raises all ships.”

    Question: Can you point me to other posts about emotional intelligence? I’d love to read up on it more!

    Thanks for sharing – I know articles like these take time.

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One Reason Students Quit and What To Do About It