Practice Makes Perfect

Mikeala Petersen, teacher, UNHS

When we think of this concept of “perfect,” is it something feasible? Society has placed a great burden on people to achieve this impossible idea. So why is it that we continue to use the phrase “Practice Makes Perfect” in an attempt to get us to meet our goals? Is it helpful? Is it true? Doesn’t it feel like a losing battle when, after hours of practice, results do not match the expectations?

I would like to argue that perhaps the wrong word is being emphasized in the phrase. Maybe, instead of focusing on the word “perfect,” we need to shift our attention to “practice.” As kids, we were taught to brush our teeth two times a day to defeat plaque buildup. Our parents likely helped us to form a routine to brush in the morning and again in the evening. This has become a healthy habit for most people but then, sometimes, life happens. You may be running late so you rush out the door and forget to brush your teeth. Or, you are so incredibly tired you don’t have the energy to brush your teeth before you go to bed. Does that mean you throw in the towel and stop brushing your teeth forever? I am sure your dentist would hope not! Instead, you may just do it when you remember or at the next opportunity you get.

Most of the time we hear this phrase applied when someone is trying to accomplish a big goal. If the objective is to succeed at something, then let’s look at ways to deliberately work toward results that are meaningful instead of mechanical.

Set attainable and clearly defined goals

First, clearly define your goal. Make it an attainable, realistic goal with parameters that allow for objective successes to be defined. You want to set CLEAR intentions with tangible proof that progress has been made toward the goal. For example, if you want to work out every day, what does that look like to you? Does it have to happen at the same time every day or can it be flexible? Do you need 5-minutes to warm up and does that count toward your goal? Are you setting a time goal, distance goal, or number of repetitions goal? Are you focusing on arms, legs, cardio, or full body? Ask yourself the hard questions about what it is you want to accomplish and how success will be defined for the goal.

Create a schedule

Second, design a plan and schedule with an outlined checklist of what to do and when. The key is to aim for daily practice, remembering that weekends are not special occasions when you are working toward a goal. Be deliberate with HOW you are accomplishing your goals by remaining present and giving it your best effort. Recognize that to build better muscle memory for completing a task, sometimes frequency is more important than duration. For instance, how you study for tests is more important than how long you study. Set aside distractions like your cell phone and set a timer to complete a task like making notecards or rewriting notes. Spending more than 45 minutes at a time on one thing overwhelms the brain and makes it harder to retain information.

Read more on How You Can Apply the 80/20 Rule in Your Life.

Allow time for self-reflection

Lastly, allow for reflection at each step of your progress. It’s possible that early attempts at attaining your goal may not go as planned. That’s okay! Have a moment of meaningful reflection so that you can move forward. This is just evidence that you are learning resilience! Many experts and professionals in their field are just as interested in what they did wrong so that they can fix it in the future. Avoid the mindset that something is “good or bad” and focus on the technical side of things. Case in point, how often do you review the tests that you take? What do you look for when you review the test? If I had to guess, you probably only look it over once and probably only long enough to see your score. The best way to assess your own learning is not by just looking at the score you earned. Instead, look at each question that you missed and ask yourself the following:

Why did I miss this question? Was it a concept that I didn’t understand? Did I make a silly mistake? Was the question written in a way that I wasn’t expecting? After figuring out why you missed the question, ask yourself how you can improve on that problem for next time. Do I need to slow down when taking the test? Should I try making flash cards for vocabulary in each unit? Do I need to ask more questions while going through content?  

Now comes the hard part. How do we rewire our brains to work on the practice part and not get so caught up in the perfect part? First, I would like to suggest some new phrase options for you to adopt:

  • Practice makes progress
  • Practice makes improvement
  • Practice makes prepared
  • Practice makes advancement
  • Practice makes an imperfect journey with highs and lows to accomplish a goal set with clear intentions and refinement of the process to develop a new skill

Okay, so that last one is a bit of a mouthful. Nevertheless, my challenge to you is to pick one of those goals that you have been meaning to get started on and commit to following through with the necessary, and realistic, steps to complete it!

Spring into Action: A To-Do List for Juniors

A UNHS Staff Article Collaboration

Attention all high school juniors! Spring has arrived, and before you know it, so will your senior year! It may seem far away, but now is the time to buckle down and take steps to ensure your success down the road. Below are some tips we’ve compiled for you to help you prepare.

(Re)take the ACT/SAT

Most students take the ACT, SAT or both during their junior year. Don’t be afraid to register early! Free resources are provided by both the SAT and ACT to help you study and prepare to perform your best when it comes to test day. If you’ve already taken one of these exams, review your score report to see what areas may need improvement. If you don’t reach your goal the first time, that’s completely normal! You can retake the exams multiple times.

Plan your senior year schedule

Work with your high school counselor or adviser to create a senior schedule that works for you. It may be tempting to take it easy your senior year, but continue to take courses that interest and challenge you. You never know where your interests may lead you!

Start exploring options for after high school

There are infinite paths for you to pursue after high school graduation – don’t wait until your senior year to consider these options! Many students pursue higher education by attending a 4-year institution after high school, but this isn’t the only path. Community college, technical school, apprenticeships, military and gap years are other viable options. Some students also consider entering the workforce right away. This isn’t an easy decision to make and it’s important to talk to your support system of guardians, advisers, coaches, mentors, and other trusted individuals to help make the decision that’s right for you.

Tour college and university campuses

If you plan on attending a college or university after graduation, now is the perfect time to start exploring campuses. If you can’t tour in-person, many institutions also offer virtual open houses, tours, and Q+A panels to help you learn more about their programs. Take advantage of these opportunities and don’t limit yourself; you can achieve whatever you put your mind to!

Register for AP® exams in early fall

If you’re planning on taking AP® exams in the spring, you’ll need to register in the fall. Deadlines vary by school, so make sure to contact AP® Services for a list of local AP® coordinators and approved test sites. For information on how to register for AP® exams, visit the College Board.

Start your scholarship search

Higher education is an investment, and it’s important to recognize that paying for it can be challenging. Make it easier for yourself by applying for as many scholarships as possible. Reach out to the financial aid office at your college of choice to inquire about scholarships. The U.S. Department of Education has also compiled scholarship resources for you to explore as you start your scholarship search. While it can seem daunting, the hard work often pays off!

Continue to get involved in extracurricular activities

Finally, it’s important to stay involved in extracurricular activities. These can vary from participating in sports, music, theatre, and clubs, to volunteering in your community or working at a part-time job. Higher education institutions love to see students exploring their passions outside of academics. Beyond this, building these relationships and experiences is vital to learning who you are and what you enjoy in life. Don’t miss this opportunity while you have it!

Dual Enrollment Examined

A UNHS Staff Article Collaboration

You may have heard the term “dual enrollment” before, but what does it mean? Dual enrollment, at its core, is a program that allows students to earn both high school credit and college credit for completing qualified courses. There are many advantages to taking dual enrollment courses, but there are a few things that are important to consider before signing up. Let’s take a closer look and examine these factors:

Advantages

Save time and money

By taking courses in high school that count for both high school and college credit, you save yourself from having to take that same course (or a similar requirement) again in college. Dual enrollment high school courses are also very cost effective since these courses are generally a fraction of the cost of a typical college course!

Explore other interests

Dual enrollment courses can help students satisfy general education requirements before heading to college, which means more time in your schedule to explore other interesting subject areas, join extracurricular activities, study abroad or participate in internships.

Get ahead, graduate early

If you decide to take several dual enrollment courses during high school, you can get ahead with enough credit to graduate early with your postsecondary degree and begin working on your life plans. This could mean starting your career, attending graduate school, or any other number of paths.

Complete college courses online

Many dual enrollment courses can be completed physically in a high school classroom or on a college campus. However, like the University of Nebraska High School (UNHS), other schools offer dual enrollment online, providing flexible college-level coursework to students no matter their location or circumstance.

Considerations

Check to make sure credit will transfer

While many colleges and universities accept dual enrollment credit, the requirements vary from institution to institution. Students should check to make sure that the college they intend to apply to will accept credit earned through dual enrollment.

You will need to meet your high school’s requirements

Most high schools require dual enrollment students to meet a particular standard. Often this involves a certain class standing (junior or senior) and a minimum GPA. Always double-check to see if you meet the necessary requirements before enrolling in a dual enrollment program.

NCAA status can be affected

NCAA policies on accepting dual enrollment transfer credit may vary based on many different factors and circumstances. In some cases, taking college courses in high school can start eligibility clocks early. Though some student athletes experience no problems participating in dual enrollment, students are encouraged to work with academic advisers and the NCAA to make sure that dual enrollment will not negatively affect their future NCAA participation.

Dual enrollment is a great opportunity for motivated high school students to earn college credit while also saving time and money on future college expenses. Are you considering dual enrollment? UNHS currently offers 10 dual enrollment courses in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). For details on approved courses, eligibility requirements, application instructions and registration deadlines, visit the UNHS website.

If you have any questions, contact a UNHS academic adviser to discuss if dual enrollment would best fit your needs.


Resilience

hugh-dec2020-blog
Hugh McDermott, principal, UNHS

Editor’s note: A post on this topic was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated with a note from the author, Principal Hugh McDermott:

The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on each of us in some way. During this time, I have had first-hand knowledge as to how students and parents have demonstrated their resilience through unprecedented challenges. Disruptions to everyday life such as work, school, athletics, and other extracurricular activities have forced many of our students to return and remain at home. Parents and other responsible adults within households have had to become test proctors overnight and many have witnessed the unique struggles students face in their everyday course learnings. Through this, students have shown how they are able to adapt and overcome barriers to learning. Over much of this past year, students and families have had to approach schoolwork in many different and new ways that have stretched persistence and re-imagined resilience. As I reflect on the current obstacles that many of us have been facing, a previous piece I wrote in April 2016 on the topic of resilience came to mind. As now, more than ever, we have seen the importance of resilience and how it continues to resonate within our communities.

We hope everyone remains safe and healthy during this unique time and that we are able to see an end soon to the disruptions brought on by this pandemic.

As a former English teacher, there are some words I just love—like “resilience.” What is resilience, really? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I love this meaning and what it stands for, and it’s very easy for me to recall example after example of resilience throughout my career.

As a principal, I have witnessed many students demonstrate resilience. For example, with students who struggled to pass their courses, their displays of resilience were often admirable. Many of these students knew they were struggling in their classes—in fact, some had been struggling academically for years! Yet they persisted and saw their courses through to a successful completion and ultimately earned their high school diploma.

Sometimes as a teacher, counselor, or principal, we would discover more about these students from a context outside of the school setting. It was then we better understood the word resilience! Many times, these students came from very difficult personal situations—a broken household, abuse, or low-income families. Even though they were dealing with these troubles, many students did not have an attendance problem. They liked being at school, and once we figured out together how they could be successful, nothing stopped them from overcoming obstacles.

I think resilience springs eternal and internal within each of us. Everyone exhibits some degree of resilience throughout their lives, but how we nurture it makes us all different. Many students who struggle on a daily basis with life circumstances display resilience, but during difficult times, it must seem like it’s nearly extinguished. Others guard and protect their resilience because they feel it is all they have. No matter the situation, your resilience will pay off if you work hard enough.

As educators, we carry a responsibility of inspiring hope within all our students. Students have their hopes and dreams, whatever they are, and it is our job to encourage them, support them, and motivate them into believing anything is possible.

What examples of resilience have you witnessed or what have you overcome?

The Gifts of Wisdom & Common Sense

Debby Bartz, UNHS Adviser

Every day I hear from parents who worry about the safety, health, happiness, and confidence of their children and teens, as well as the quality of their education. I completely understand these feelings not only from the perspective of a parent, but as a grandmother too. I have worked as a University of Nebraska High School academic adviser for eleven years and one important skill I have learned is that it is important to apply wisdom over worry for the most difficult situations and planning for the future.

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”
– Commonly attributed to Winston Churchill

Our life experiences have taught us as parents to use our strengths and common sense to make the best decisions. As we are currently facing unprecedented times, we have had to use common sense to make decisions for the health and safety of our families. We have discovered our talents for making masks, exercising wisely in our neighborhoods, socializing with distance and precautions, all the while rediscovering the gifts of having more time with immediate family members. We, as parents and grandparents, can teach the same principles of lifelong wisdom and rationality to our children and teens. COVID-19 has reminded us to lead with examples in self-care, self-motivation, self-regulation, self-organization, and self-confidence.

Schooling at home is not for everyone, but if it feels right for your family, the opportunity for your children to study independently with a well-written curriculum can help to reinforce their strengths and talents. Advance thinking and planning allows the University of Nebraska High School diploma program to affirm that students are successful now and will continue to be in the future. They will take the life experiences of living through a worldwide pandemic and come out stronger. They will know how to be resilient, how to use their independent-thinking skills to make good decisions, will hang onto the memories of having more time with family, and take this with them to someday be our future leaders.