Dr. Lori Desautels 317-207-0336 brain@revelationsineducation.com

Adolescence! The Irrationally Invincible Minds

In a couple of days, week, or weeks, you will stand before your students because you have chosen to teach and hopefully learn! You will be in the presence of those  who are motivated to be with their friends, while subconsciously intimated about what this school year will look like and how it will feel with new teachers, subjects, peer groups, schedules and the demands of “fitting in.”  For most children and adolescents, (this is a generalization), fitting in, will be a top priority because in the minds of most teens, to look stupid is unacceptable!   With this mind set, being “called out”  for negative and ornery behaviors is a much better alternative than to look stupid in the presence of their worlds.

I do not know of a strategy or technique that works to engage, stimulate, and capture the interests, hearts and minds of those students sitting before us, but I believe there is a perspective we can embrace that gently encourages our children and adolescents to feel safe  inside the learning environments we create while experiencing mutual respect.  When an adolescent respects a teacher, the work that is called upon is effortless.  But my question for this post is:  what constitutes this type of respect generating a higher level of involvement and accountability in our public classrooms and schools?

Could the philosophy employ “compassion,” but what does that look like and how is it measured? Questions educators are always concerned with because student performance and teacher evaluation are intimately tied together!  

From the book, “Anatomy of Peace,” by the Arbinger Institute, the authors speak of a concept that I believe germinates this type of compassionate philosophy. This philosophy asks us to shift perspectives and notice what is going well and right in our worlds.  When we are able to focus on the strengths, smiles, and even the smallest of accomplishments, those who notice, see more of these positive scenarios. In return, those who are affirmed, experience a small dose of optimism. Tali Sharot, author of a recently published book entitled, “The Optimism Bias,” states, “The idea behind a self-fulfilling prophecy is that it is not a forecast of the future event, but a cause of the event. Don’t get me wrong; predicting your team will win the championship does not necessarily make it so. And not all athletes who envision their success will go home with a championship medal.  Many factors will determine the outcome and the opposing team may just be as confident. However, a prediction has an influence on the event it predicts because people’s behavior is determined by their subjective perception of reality rather than by objective reality. Therefore seeing and believing in a positive outcome will enhance the probability that the desired outcome will be realized.”   

So what does this philosophy look like inside our classrooms and what can educators and parents provide as support  to create a little more optimism where we all begin to envision what could be instead of recycling the what is ?  

A. Maybe we begin to use the famous educational trackers for assessment and data collection and begin to implement these for tracking the observations of those vulnerable students that for two days in one week got to class on time! Maybe we notice that there were only three F### words used today instead of ten? Maybe we notice a smile or gesture that wasn’t there yesterday. Maybe we see a pattern on Wednesdays and Thursdays where our students come in with bags under their eyes or and are unable to keep their heads off their desks?  Maybe we begin to ask more questions instead of stating rules and consequences every time a situation seems to go awry.  (Again a perspective)

B. How do you perceive mistakes in your own life and those of your students? When we self-reflect and look to re-create an event or outcome based on the mistakes or perceived failures from the past, we are learning and growing at an extravagant pace! How do you view mistakes and failures in your homes, classrooms and buildings? Are these setbacks there to stay and bemoan or are they opportunities to make changes? Is your classroom a place where mistakes are welcomed and pondered?

C. How do you view lying and cheating? I wonder if cheating isn’t a creative process demonstrating that there is fear- a much larger issue beneath this action. Have we observed the “cheating” in context exploring culture (as one of my students pointed out to me yesterday)  beliefs, and values about experiences that we DO NOT UNDERSTAND. As an educator, I feel it is my responsibility to assist my students in redirecting their creative, angry, and inappropriate behaviors seeing what they are able to accomplish along with feelings that are positive and hope that one can taste!

D. We know that the frontal lobe in adolescence is underdeveloped and because this is the seat of executive function, we need to explore this. The executive functions are high level mental processes that need to be nurtured, sometimes taught and brought to the forefront in the adolescent years. These  higher level thought processes enable us to identify future goals, predict, and discern the consequences that will lead to achieving these goals.   With older children and teens, this area needs direction and constant affirmation and redirection. So what does this look like in the classroom? We ask questions. What kind of work do you want to do when you graduate? If the answer is play basketball, then we sit down with our students and brainstorm an “action plan” with small steps and goals that assist them in reaching this first step.  For many adolescents, just stating what they desire and not thinking about “how” to develop a plan or program is what occurs more often than not. So if it is to play basketball, then I would sit down with my student and discuss times, practices, places, people and ways of improving, so this goal becomes clear and accomplishable.  (I am indirectly teaching my student about organization and healthy study habits as we create a plan for basketball!)

If the goal is to own a business someday; why not start now? Help the student to think about a car wash, babysitting, E-Bay business, or marketing power points for elementary math classes and create a mind map to invite the people, resources and the ideas to develop this plan even if it seems a bit outrageous. Brainstorming embraces  broadened perspectives and this generates creativity and creative problem-solving.  When we look outside of school into the real world, this is where the application of the academic content becomes relevant and meaningful. If the academic standard states: The student will be able to understand and employ the techniques of writing a persuasive paper, then we create a learning epsisode where this standard applies to future goals. Students who are feeling successful and encouraged to apply their learning in a way that will boost their thought processes to look into the possibilities of the future become invested in learning! When I explain to my student that writing a persuasive paragraph well will help them to market and develop a business plan for innovative ideas- THEY CARE!   

When we ask, “What do you need? How can I help you?” we not only develop a relationship with our students, but they begin to trust us to facilitate their learning.  Because we are in a national cycle of standardized testing, student growth and teacher evaluation –these trends do not exclude the creative thought processes and the ability of all educators to delve into the everyday aptitudes and geniuses of students integrating their strengths through,  purpose, planning and affirmations.       

D. How do you embrace diversity in your schools and classrooms? Research clearly shows that the number one reason for the increasing amount of bullying incidences inside our schools is the intolerance of differences and diversity among individuals! This is “why” the purpose and main objective for most adolescents is to NOT stand out! We inherently are relational beings and come into the world seeing sameness and are innately accepting of individuality, but somehow and somewhere within our conditioning, we lose this sense of acceptance and become fearful! What can you do to promote a culture of community and collaboration in your schools and classes that DEMONSTRATES a compassionate presence for all persons?

1. Develop class guidelines, consequences and actions plans together. Model what and how a team member shows up for everyone!

2. SERVICE- This is most important at any age, but in the adolescent years, students are appropriately self-centered driven to please themselves and to desire and to know feelings of security and safety at all times. What can you create an event or simply a time to discuss the places, thoughts, feelings and intentions of someone in need; everyone is intrigued for even just a short time.  Research, call on students’ knowledge of persons or organizations that are suffering.  Raise money, food, create a fundraiser, and watch video clips from projects such as “The Happiness Project” If you teach 180 students a day, select a class that is struggling with community, negativity and angst. When we embrace a “heart of service” the students will  feel immediately a bit better about their own lives and those who appear so dramatically different.

3. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of bringing in former students, outside professionals,   and anyone who would contribute to inspiring the hearts and minds of your students. Look at your standards for the week and see how outside presenters, parents, other students or teachers could integrate their knowledge and passion into your content.

4. Problem-solve as a group, always creating ways for class and individual rewards. When I speak of rewards, this does not necessarily mean material rewards. If there is a special job, errand , time to work out in the gym, have lunch , or whatever would be an experience  that the class and/or student has worked towards-this is a constructed, planned out natural consequence that is meaningful and relevant.

I think that when we listen to one another’s stories, we begin to understand the hurdles, baggage, experiences, and hearts each of us contributes in this time of global and educational change. Open this year with a story about compassion, seeing all that is going well and right inside a world that feeds on the power and illusion of the negative! Our young adults  and children are our future and they need to be understood and heard anticipating the realms of possibilities.

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