Middle school is a time for parents and educators to place more responsibility on students. That’s why this year, our teachers, counselors and administrators are striving even more to coach students on being accountable for their learning.
At our August training, our staff members discussed what student advocacy should look like. We agreed that we wanted to use Thursday advisory time to guide students on how to plan their school work, how to set goals and how to advocate for themselves with adults.
It turns out that we’re in alignment with a recent book, The Self-Driven Child, by Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson. The authors explain that their years of experience working with adolescents have taught them that over protecting children and running their lives isn’t effective. They say that “trying to force kids to do things you think are in their own best interest will compromise your relationship and waste energy that could be spent building them up in other ways” (31). The authors caution that trying to stronghold children can cause their brains to spend “enormous amounts of energy resisting what’s often in their own best interest” (36).
After reading this book, I’ve found that I’m more inclined to ask students if they would like my advice on something. When they say, “yes,” they’re choosing to listen instead of me just talking at them. If they say, “no,” then I simply assure them that I’m available if they need help.
The authors recommend setting a specific time in the evening that you’re available to help with homework. I wish I had had this advice when my host-daughter, Vanessa, was a freshman in high school. She would procrastinate getting her essays written and then, just as I was brushing my teeth in my pajamas getting ready for bed, she’d ask me to give her feedback. I’d be frustrated with her, but would (I hate to admit . . . grudgingly) give her feedback. If I had just said, “My offer for help was for no later than 8 p.m. I’m sorry because I would have liked to have helped you.” This way, I would have taught her important planning skills and could have avoided a tense moment.
The Kopachuck Pack teachers have committed to giving students a few minutes on Tuesday mornings to plan how they’ll use their Thursday advisory time. We’re encouraging students to have a plan before speaking with a teacher. We ask that they know where they’re stuck instead of simply saying, “I don’t get it.” Or, worse yet, “How do I increase my grade?” We’d like for students to be more interested in increasing their learning rather than only increasing their grade.
We hope that you will partner with us in playing the role of coach instead of director, too.