Commentary: The pathway to success this school year

Schools open. Teams practice. Bands march.

It’s a season of fresh slates, new options and renewed hope.

A wave of energy summons us to get on board now — parents, students, educators, all — to set goals and start making our “to do” lists.

To me, it’s as if we’ve heard that distinctive call to the post, and we’re like horses in the starting gate all poised to go.

Who will succeed?

I’m no Bob Baffert — horse trainer and champion-producer extraordinaire.

However, after more than four decades as parent, teacher, frequent student and Delaware citizen, I have a mental picture of success. Baffert’s life reflects much of it. He had a meandering road to success — overcoming discouragement and even leaving his career with horses for a time.

Pat Thompson

By clarifying his goals and recalling what he really loved (training horses), he joined with others to produce Triple Crown winners Justify and American Pharaoh.

His success was built on effort, determination, solid strategies, and learning from failure and wrong turns — the backbone of most every success story I’ve ever heard.

Like most folks, I’ve also had to devise strategies for each “new hat” I wore — to create kits of practical life and learning skills, to learn from what went right and wrong, to study the track ahead and keep focused on “the finish line.”

Pacing, not racing

Aesop in his tortoise and hare fable showed us that “slow and steady wins the race.”

In an era obsessed with speed, we are often duped into thinking there’s a quick fix for almost everything. More often than not, most problems will take about as long to fix as they took to develop. I try to keep that in mind as I ponder any politician’s promises.

ABCs of success

Then what is a strategic path to success for students or frankly for anyone? This simple “ABC approach” — Assess, Build, Commit — is one such tool.

A – Assess — Write down your current goals. Then ask yourself, “How am I doing in my life right now? What should I change or improve to accomplish my goals and get where I want to go?”

B – “Build your boat” — Browse among nonfiction books, audio books and media. Seek worthy You Tube and internet sources and resources from varied viewpoints. Find print material and video examples of what you need to improve or change.

Example: Do you want to increase school success, relate better to family and friends, change jobs? Ask yourself, “What skills do I need to achieve this goal? Also, what person, program, or support network can help to advise me?”

Then “build your boat” — build your capacity — with your practical, goal-aligned resources in your area of improvement. Add insights from a mix of trusted, centered people of different ages — walking success stories who also know how to overcome challenges.

C – Commit on your calendar — Ask, “What are my first two small action steps to put on my calendar?” Break tasks into fractional parts and put these small action steps on your calendar each week. Add other steps once the first ones are becoming habits.

Winning success habits

Two useful books with proven track records offer more tips – “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey (over 25 million copies sold) and his son Sean’s book — “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”.

Sample success tips — largely from the Coveys:

1) Take responsibility for your actions and your reactions. Use positive action steps to improve your situation. Prevent or promptly address your issues and those in your circle of influence.

2) “Begin with the end in mind.” Picture what you want your outcome to be and learn skills to get there.

3) Set logical priorities. “Do first things first.” Reduce distractions and time-wasters.

4) Go for the win-win, not the win-lose. Have courteous conversations. Listen deeply in order to remember. Discuss, don’t debate. Pause to think, and predict consequences before making choices. Interact face-to-face with other people. Build relationships by exchanging polite questions.

5) “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Show empathy and compassion.

6) Use synergy — the teamwork to achieve what one cannot do alone.

7) Aim for steady improvement to create a balanced, sustainable, rewarding lifestyle. Be positive.

Focus on wellness — good nutrition, exercise, deleting of negative habits and undesirable substances. Read for renewal.

Major habit: Seek to help and serve others.


Covey urges balance in life: Focus on self plus society, calmness plus action and service. This yields a steady upward spiral for all.

Another noted author, Leo Buscaglia, adds, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring — all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Success as a process

Genuine success is not always based on having the top IQ or the greatest natural talent.

To me, it’s more of a lifelong process … harnessing effective habits, taking the “ABC approach,” finding our learning styles, or mixing up a blend of best practices.

Ultimately it’s about discovering and mastering our authentic selves, scheduling steps toward goals, making comebacks from problems or wrong turns (aka life lessons), and creating time for regular acts of kindness.

Isn’t now a good time to chart a course of personal and outreach goals?

Patricia C. Thompson, M.A., M.Ed., of Dover is a semi-retired teacher (high school and college) She is a wife, mother of two and grandmother. A volunteer instructor with adults, she is also a certified life/personal success coach, who likes creating innovative approaches with students and groups.

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