Is your child an excellent student? How did you answer that question? If you’re like most, your mind immediately evaluated your children’s report card grades and arrived at a response. You probably answered in the affirmative if your child receives mostly high marks, A’s and B’s, and perhaps you answered in the negative if your child usually earns C’s or lower. I would argue that you have missed the mark! Excellent students exhibit particular qualities and character traits but do not necessarily receive high grades. Yes, I mean every word of what I just said. Excellent students do not always receive A’s! And the converse is true: not every student who receives an A is an excellent student. So what constitutes an excellent student?

An excellent student views his education as a gift, an opportunity to gain wisdom and to mature into a godly man or woman. An excellent student seeks after knowledge and gives his best effort no matter what. He does not offer excuses for mistakes, but instead humbly learns from them. So often in the classroom I find that students offer excuses for why they answered a question incorrectly, instead of humbling accepting the correction and realizing that only through mistakes does true learning occur.

Excellent students participate actively in their education, realizing again that true learning occurs when students take intellectual risks. They do not wait passively for someone else—perhaps even the teacher!—to complete the work for them. Let me offer an example. At the beginning of each school year in physics I notice I always have students who will not attempt example problems in class in their notebooks for fear of being wrong and then having to cross out or erase their work. I immediately explain to them that in physics class you will never see the same problem twice because my goal is to teach them how to think, how to problem solve, how to apply physics principles in novel contexts and problems. If they do not attempt the problems in class, they are missing the whole point of my class.

Excellent students do not exhibit a complaining spirit, but choose to exhibit gratitude no matter the situation. Instead of avoiding challenges and struggles, excellent students embrace them. They persevere when life gets tough. Excellent students realize that hard work, perseverance, teamwork, and integrity are the hallmarks of a well-educated follower of Christ.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Does this excellent student that you have described here even exist? Well, I have met quite a few over the years in my classrooms. And no, they did exhibit each of these qualities perfectly every single day, but they possessed these characteristics and worked to improve them. Instead of speaking to your children about their grades, perhaps mention what it truly means to be an excellent student. You will find that if your student strives for the qualities that I have mentioned here, more often than not, those high marks will follow.

So, I’ll ask my question again: is your child an excellent student?