Like actors testing out different types of roles, adolescents have to perform on many stages, as many characters, before discovering and choosing which roles feel right to them. This is essential work, at the core of what it means to be an adolescent – to develop your identity in a social world. Schools can help or hinder. The more fluid a student’s identity can be – the more easily, and with few repercussions, they can try on different roles and ways of being, provided they aren’t harming anyone – the faster and more healthily that student will develop, and the more vibrant that school’s culture will be.Read More
It's hard or maybe impossible to recall how drastic the shift was into adolescence. Your brain was re-wired in the process, after all. But if you could drag your consciousness back to middle school and see it clearly, you would notice that your social perception suddenly explodes in complexity and intensity. You begin to notice everything about your peers. You are suddenly aware of your own body and how it's similar or different to those around you. Similarly with your posture, your clothing, the words you choose, the friends you have, the spot you occupy in the social world. You're not sure how to interpret others' behavior or words - were they making fun of me? Was she teasing me because she wants to be my friend or because she and everyone else thinks I'm a loser?
In nearly all cases, kids' ability to perceive their social world races ahead of their ability to interpret what is going on and why…Read More
One of the primary functions of our mind is to filter out information. To sort through the infinite amount coming in from our senses, our thoughts, from others, and decide what is relevant and should be considered consciously. We would be quickly lost and overwhelmed without this function. In a similar sense, oddly enough, I think this is the purpose of home. A good home filters out most of the world, leaving us with the sense that what's left is the world. But where does this exist for adolescents, who have left their home of origin as part of their natural development?Read More
A visiting parent asked a 6th grade girl how she was adapting to starting middle school. Even the beginning of her answer stopped me in my tracks: "At my old school, my teacher didn't know how much we knew." I wondered what exactly was going to come next.Read More
If we could go beyond the usual curriculum checklist, what do we really want our kids to experience as they go through adolescence? What are the essential experiences that would help them grow? Here is a rough, brainstormed list of “Essential Experiences” with middle and high schoolers in mind. What would you add or remove?Read More
It's easy, so easy, to see our children's potential in terms of doing well in the world as it is now. We naturally want them to master the challenges in front of them, and so we might think "I want my child to like school more," or "How can I help them really master math?" These are the natural impulses of a parent or teacher wanting to help a young person navigate the world. They're beautiful and important. And, there's something problematic as well. The problem is that we are always shaping the child to the world's needs now, versus excavating the deeper potential of that child, which may be vastly greater than we think.Read More
One of my most vivid childhood dreams began with me wandering down the hallway at home, going toward the living room. Suddenly I realized that just next to the living room was another room I had never noticed before. I peeked in and there was, with that air of magical obviousness that dreams provide, a fully functioning McDonald's. Yes, inside my own house there was a McDonald's complete with the beeping fryers and the clerk waiting behind the register. I remember the response of pure joy mixed with astonishment - how could I have missed this!?
While McDonald's is no longer my fantasy of a restaurant, this dream has stuck with me, bringing with it the theme of doors we don't notice. What inspires me most, and sends a little shiver of fear down my spine as well, is this question: Is it possible there are rooms in my own house that I've never been to?Read More
I was standing on the front stoop of our school, chatting with students as they arrived for the day in various states of sleepiness or excitement. A visitor was going to attend our Morning Meeting, which includes a student-led, 3-minute meditation, and so she asked the students for any tips on the meditation. One of the kids replied, with a tone so casual that she might have been giving directions to the bathroom. She recommended that the visitor start by just following her breath, maybe counting breaths, and then notice any thoughts that come up. If they do, then just accept them and then go back to the breath. That's it. What else?Read More
Sometimes we get to have an impossible conversation. They emerge without warning - a parent opening up about their inner life, say, or a child revealing an understanding that seems beyond their years. These moments are little clues about what is always possible yet only sometimes happens; a tantalizing category if ever there was one. Yesterday, I got to have two impossible conversations with middle school students. My sense of what is possible for them is once again shifting…Read More
Middle school is one of life's great forks in the road. For some students, it's the time they begin to find their voice, their social identity, their sense of self in a bigger world. For most, unfortunately, it's the opposite of that - the time when students lose engagement in school, forgot their authentic sense of self for the "false self" of whatever passes for cool in school, and begin orienting themselves to do whatever it takes to win social status. I've spent a good part of my career so far wondering about this puzzle and trying to access what I know is the greater potential of this age. Here are 10 lessons so far.Read More