This post was inspired by this video that I just watched:
Being a middle school teacher I see this struggle of adolescence becoming themselves on a daily basis – And I LOVE this idea of honoring the rebellious state of mind, of truly encouraging our young minds to think for themselves, of being a necessary support system for our teenagers to use as they learn to navigate this world. Let’s honor and celebrate the development that these youth are going through.
This week I noticed a very drastic change of two students in my class who are normally good friends. I talked to them each individually and they expressed the need to talk it out together but were either scared, nervous, or too angry to address the issues with each other. Since it was apparent that neither student was able to continue through the day without these issues being addressed (and luckily I had a prep block to spend the time with them) I helped to initiate the conversation between them but they weren’t talking or opening up. I shared with the students that when we open up and share what’s bothering us our friendships become stronger and we learn and grow from these moments. And then I left them in the room. My heart was hurting for these students caught in an all too familiar situation (something I had dealt with many times in my own adolescence) and I was worried that the conversation might not happen without me there, or that one student might not be heard out, or that the problem might get bigger… But I left the room. I wasn’t leaving them to deal with it because I didn’t want to help or because it was “wasting” my prep block. I left them to deal with it because I know that next time I might not be there – next time there might not be any adult – and the best way for them to learn to be vulnerable and honest with each other is to practice. And this time it worked. I don’t know what they talked about, I don’t know what solutions they found. All I know is that they are now friends again and they found a way to communicate – to hold compassion for each other.
If we don’t give our students the space they need to find their own answers and make their own mistakes, how will they know what to do when we aren’t around?
And what about school work? Instead of sitting and doing worksheets or following step by step lessons – How do we help our students form the connections in their brains that happen through truly meaningful learning? I think that a big part of that is letting go and stepping back. We are facilitators in their learning, we are not instructors. We are their as a support network when things are tough, we are not the solutions to problems. Sometimes it is hard to let go, not simply because we want to be in control but also because it’s hard to know how to let go when what was modeled to us was the opposite. I saw my students come alive with passion this week in their science projects (Water Animal Books) when they were looking at different animals they could research. Whether it was the freedom to choose their project, the creativity in how to present the information, or the connection they feel to living creatures, I’m not sure – perhaps all three?
We talk a lot about personalized learning in today’s education climate, but what does this really mean? To me it means giving space for thoughts and creativity to arise and flourish, it means letting students figure out the “tough stuff” on their own sometimes, and it means letting go and not expecting any particular result. It means that students need to find connections between what they are passionate about and what the world is in need of. When we are looking at our adolescence we need to allow them a balance of space and support (enabling constraints in the education theory world) to be creative, passionate, and compassionate – this is all I want for my students.
When I step into my classroom next week I am going to honor adolescence by appreciating the rebellion, choosing to let go a little more, supporting students in the search for their own knowledge, and sharing my love with my students. I want my students to find their own ways to grow into creative, passionate, and compassionate adults. I will model this and facilitate this but I will understand that I cannot control how it is done. They are rebelling for freedom because freedom is needed for growth. And growth is needed for change. And change is needed so desperately in this world.