There are a lot of "old school" problems with that phone conversation.
- The conversation emphasizes following rules and getting grades, and there is very little talk about actual learning.
- The first part of the famous teacher line is, Your child has the ability.... If the child already has the ability to do the work, then the solution to the problem should concentrate on why the child isn't doing what she is already capable of doing.
We know that (as adults) there are lots of things that we have the ability to do and yet we don't do them--or we delay doing them for as long as possible. Mowing the grass, doing the dishes, admitting we're wrong about something. We have the ability to do all of these things, but we need some sort of motivation to actually take the time to do them. Students are the same way. The old adult (or teacher) response of "I'm the adult and I say so." may force children to do something, but it certainly doesn't motivate them to do their best.
Growth Mindset theory tells us that when students believe that effort will lead to result, they are more likely to try new things and are less worried about making mistakes because they believe that these setbacks are just part of the process of learning new things. I've recently been introduced to the website Mindset Kit. This site is dedicated to helping teachers, parents, and students to understand what Growth Mindset is and how to help students to develop good, healthy Growth Mindsets.
One simple strategy that every teacher can do is called Praise the Process. When a student is doing some classwork, or offers an answer or an idea in class, the teacher response by praising the thinking that went into the student's effort rather responding to the correctness or the incorrectness of the student's work or response. This simple strategy helps the student to know that their effort is important towards that eventual goal of learning the skill or concept.
Mindset Kit has excellent resources for parents. Teachers can refer parents to this site for parents who ask, "How can I help my child to do her best?" There is a brief quiz on different statements of praise that parents can say to their children that will promote a Growth Mindset. And there are other typical daily activities in which a parent's reaction will help their children to understand (for instance) that making mistakes is great for helping your brain to learn.
Our best teachers already know how to encourage their students to do their best everyday--even when they don't want to. It's the same as when a parent tries to distract their child away from something that is bothering him and towards something that he would like. Growth Mindset strategies help teachers to do this while also helping their students to see the value in effort.
Here's another quote I hear from parents all of the time, "I can't believe my child is doing so well in (insert course subject here) class in school. He has never done well in that class before." You can bet that this child has a teacher that knows how to motivate students. Her class is interesting and students are engaged in the adventure of learning.
After all, they already have the ability.