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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


How to Stunt a Student’s Growth

Many of you who read my blog posts work in education. Perhaps you can shed some light on my topic today, one which I continue to grieve over—the challenges students are unable to work through on their university campuses.

Did you know that Harvard University provides massage circles when tough topics are discussed that might traumatize their students? They also show videos featuring playful puppies, just in case a student becomes anxious or upset and feels the need to watch something happy. Schools are expected to ease up and almost become surrogate parents to the kids.

Believe it or not, it often begins in K-12 schools. CBC News in Toronto recently reported that, “For students in Toronto’s Catholic District School Board, 35 per cent is the new zero. That’s because a new policy specifies that teachers are not allowed to record any mark below 35 per cent on students’ mid-term reports.” Consequently, a student could earn an absolute zero on their report card—but their grade will never go below a 35. Evidently, some believe a failing student just can’t handle that reality.

Wow. Is all of this really helpful to students in the long run?

Not everyone thinks so. Dave Szollosy, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s Toronto secondary unit, stated he thinks the new policy could give students an incorrect view of their academic performance. “By not honestly reporting significant needs and problems with the students’ progress, you’re masking problems and not being honest in identifying student needs so they can be properly addressed,” Szollosy said. “If you mask problems, how does that help to identify them?”

I completely agree. When people are young (and the stakes are relatively low) is the time to graciously be honest about where they stand and make corrections. If adults can’t do it in school, a boss will eventually have to do it when they’re at work… and it probably won’t be pretty. Now is the time we get them ready for the world that awaits them.

That’s what my friend Everett Piper believes, too.

A Day Care or a University?

Everett Piper is the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. In a recent open letter to students, Piper furnished some old-fashioned tough love. OWU is a private, faith-based university that’s dealing with the same issues other higher education institutions are dealing with. Below is a portion of that letter:

“This is not a Day Care. It’s a University!

“This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of I Corinthians 13. (The “Love Chapter.”) It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.  

“I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are victims. Anyone who dares to challenge them and, thus, makes them ‘feel bad’ about themselves is a ‘hater,’ a ‘bigot,’ an ‘oppressor’ and a ‘victimizer.’ 

“I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience… At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered… This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up. This is not a Day Care. It’s a university.”

We May Just Stunt Their Growth

I believe if we cave on this issue, we can actually stunt a student’s growth. I am not suggesting we be cruel or mean-spirited—we can be honest and gracious. But a true sign of love is honesty.

Question: Do you really love the students you serve? We must be honest with students and equip them to stop playing the “victim card.” To not give them a zero when they performed poorly is actually the cruel thing to do. We’ve lied to them. We are guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The next time you’re tempted to lower a standard that you know is right, or to give in because students say they feel like victims, tell yourself this truth:

I could stunt their growth if I am not truthful with them now. I will fail to prepare them for the challenging world we desperately need them to be ready for. If I really care about them and their hopeful future—I owe it to them to be honest.

I will not stunt their growth. Will you?

Looking to develop leadership skills in students or young teammates? Check out

Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



  1. jmoore on January 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I am not a professional educator, but I have been working with teenagers for over seven years. I have seen the stark contrast between those that are able to handle offenses, uncomfortable situations, or conflict and those that aren’t. Some students remain rational, thoughtful, and will reflect and ask questions about tough topics. Others become defensive and retreat, usually with the mantra “Who are you to tell me how to live?” In my limited experience, their public reactions seem to reflect their private teachings. What they learn inside the home is how they behave outside. Sure, there are many other influences – peers, teachers, or others outside the home. But at our core, we seem to reflect the ones who raised us.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in many of your articles about how we as parents, teacher, or leaders overprotect our kids. We have doted on them, babied them, and immediately been there with a band-aid (or prevented them from getting hurt in the first place). Their skins are unhurt, untarnished, and baby-soft smooth. When I shake the hand of a teenager it’s different than shaking the hand of my grandfather. My grandfather’s hand is rough, blistered, and weathered by his trials and hard work. His skin is tough and thick. He is better prepared to take life’s “owies”.

    My youth leadership team is working through one of the Habitudes books. Just last week we went through the Pop Quiz image. This article reminded me of the “Offense Test” which measures how you respond to being offended. It’s going to happen. Somebody is going to offend you. How do you react? How quickly do you forgive? How thick is your skin?

    Thank you and all the staff at Growing Leaders for your continued efforts to help us enable the next generation of leaders.

  2. Stan Laing on January 26, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Really enjoy reading your articles and have always taken something positive from them. However, this is one I have to disagree with in regards to you being critical of a school not giving a student a zero on a mid term report card. I have been in education for over 30 years in the role of a teacher, coach, and campus principal, so I feel I can speak from experience. I completely agree we should never lower our expectations, but the reality is sometimes it takes some kids longer to learn or life gets in the way with some adversity they have no control over. If a grade is given at mid term that is so low that there is absolutely no hope for them to recover in the next term, then we have done that child an injustice by putting them in a hopeless situation. Research has shown the one thing that moves the needle more than anything else when it comes to student success is Hope. I have seen far more kids grow into very productive adults rather than be “stunted” by understanding real growth does happen through adversity and being challenged in an environment that still offers them Hope.

    • Michelle on January 28, 2016 at 10:36 am

      I love your reply. I just read a book called, Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck, PhD, and learned so much! Parents and educators need to read this book. Often times children (and adults) have so many internal negative thoughts that they can’t rise above the hopeless feeling of failure. They receive a poor grade and instead of thinking of ways to overcome this, their self-talk makes them believe they aren’t capable. They haven’t been trained how to change their mindset to a more “growth” mindset, one that shows them how to turn their negative self-talk into “how can I work to change” this situation?” I’m intentionally working with my daughter who was abandoned in an orphanage for two years before we adopted her. This negative self-worth probably plays into her self-image and her negative self-talk, but since I’ve been using this method to change her mindset I’ve seen her grow and excel.

      • Stan Laing on January 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

        I’m familiar with the book Mindset, great information. Your personal experience is a perfect example of why we must be intentional on a daily basis of instilling hope as educators. Often times we can only assume the underlying problem, but there is most often a much deeper challenge. In regards to education, particularly in a public school setting where we are charged to educate all children, the great school systems understand and accept this challenge. During my days as a campus principal, I was a disciple of Dr. Rick Dufour and the process he developed in a professional learning community where high expectations are non-negotiable, but a process was in place to meet the needs of all students – giving up on them is not an option. Blessings to you and your family, obviously your daughter is in great hands!

    • Tim Elmore on February 3, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      You make a great point, Stan. I agree that in those situations we as leaders need to be responsive to the student’s circumstances and offer them hope. From my experience sweeping rules like this rarely have the positive effect people are hoping for. Rather than rules, I believe we need more leaders like you who have the emotional intelligence to know when students are struggling and how to give them hope.

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How to Stunt a Student’s Growth