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Joy + Ambition = Success

Happy, motivated students dream bigger dreams and do better in school.

This may seem like a bold statement but it’s proven by years of education and neuroscience research. We know that the human brain, especially the developing human brain, processes information better when it is relieved of stress and worry.

In her widely published paper, “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education,” neurologist and educator Judy Willis, writes, “When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004).”

Additionally, helping students establish goals, and encouraging them they can reach them, fosters in them a sense of ambition. This healthy ambition helps kids visualize their future and set and maintain priorities in order to achieve and/or redefine goals.

Author and professor, Albert-László writes, in his book, “The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success, “The single determinant of long-term success was derived from the best college a kid merely applied to, even if she didn’t get in. Meaning that if she applied to Harvard, got rejected, and went to Northeastern, her success was on a par with that of Harvard graduates who matched her SATs and high school grades.”

As parents, when we marry these two concepts – the concept of infusing joy in our children’s education process, and the concept of building in them a healthy sense of ambition – we find a very powerful formula. But how exactly can parents like you ensure that your children are in an educational environment that helps feed that healthy sense of ambition and fosters an atmosphere of joy?

Here are four things that help you combine joy and ambition in your child’s education:

  1. Interview Your Child – Ask them about their thoughts about school. Find out what about school makes them happy and what might make them nervous. Ask them what they think they might want to do when they grow up and then help them map out all of the steps that will get them there. Be sure to encourage them in their goals. Nothing goes further than telling a child that if they work hard and stay focused, they can achieve great things.
  2. Visit More Than One School – Before enrolling your child in an elementary school, middle school, or high school, visit a number of them. Also, ask to examine a class in action and note how the students in that class are responding to the teaching. Don’t just talk to the admissions people, though, ask to speak to some teachers who might be teaching your student.
  3. Do regular check-ins – Once your child is in school, don’t wait until you notice a slip in your child’s grades. Talk with your child daily about what they learned in school, what subjects they enjoy and why. Likewise, schedule regular meetings with our child’s school simply to ask how they think your child is doing. Ask them what you can do to help.
  4. Changing Schools Is Not The End Of The World – Sometimes it may be necessary to move your child from a school that isn’t providing joy and ambition. It’s far better to move them at a logical break to a school where they will feel fully embraced, valued for who they are, and supported in their goals. Should you arrive at this point, remember to do your homework and fully commit to the new school before moving your child. Talk thoroughly with the new school about a transition plan, expectations, and goals for your child, and be sure to be constantly communicating with your child about where you both are in the process.