Last week I wrote about a lesson I've learned recently--adapting the means employed to achieving an adult-defined objective with adolescents. The next thing I learned is closely related, but not quite the same and I'm working to try and articulate the difference in my own mind.
Back to my most recent foray into the swampy fields of adolescence: the school play.
The choreographer and I were watching rehearsal a few weeks ago. I told her how much I loved a number that had just happened and she said, "Well, it's not exactly what I taught them, but as long as you like it, I guess that's okay."
The number wasn't wildly different from what she'd taught them--but they had essentially adapted it to fit their own capacity and sensibility. I'm certain it wasn't conscious, but adolescents tend to translate everything into their own terms and also will do what they feel is best. They are particularly agressive about doing this to make something more comfortable.
That can be aggravating--and is sometimes dangerous. Generally speaking, I don't have much patience with schools of thought that see children as being terribly competent in terms of making their own decisions. I think that is romantic, wishful thinking. I think it's pretty clear that many times, adolescents make terrible choices when left to their own devices and adults need to provide very clear guidelines.
But there are times when the stakes aren't terribly high and letting them improvise within those parameters is very productive. Sometimes this might be conscious collaboration or compromise, other times it might be just letting them do it their way--as long as it's reasonably close to what you wanted.
So, last week I suggested letting them come up with the means to meet your objectives. This week, I am suggesting that there are times when being flexible with the end result and letting them suit it to their needs, wants, abilities and so forth can be very helpful.
This means that you not only allow them flexibility to meet certain objectives, you work with them on the means as well as the ends--allowing them to have some say in the final outcome as well as the intermediate steps.
I've found that this is where theatrical brilliance or true learning in the classroom often occurs, incidentally. I provide a scaffolding or foundation for them but then, in a moment of inspiration, frustration, or curiosity, they then change it. Often the result is vastly superior to my original plan. At a minimum, the fact that they have ownership makes them execute the plan far more energetically and happily. As I look back, I see that some more successful parenting moments were also an application of this principle. Often, this is not done in a formal way, through a conversation. That can happen, but usually, I think it happens organically by just backing off a bit and letting them find the path.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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