Don't forget your wings

Once I saw an 11 year old boy walk out the front door of our school, say goodbye in a serious manner, and then immediately sweep his arms behind him like wings and take off running down the sidewalk like a superhero. It seemed so effortless and un-self-conscious, a free expression of imagination. I couldn't help but stare after him, grinning.

It seems odd to me that we expect imagination to drift away, much like childhood itself, as adolescence begins. Why is this? And could we somehow keep our imaginations more alive, for longer?

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Invitation to be a beta tester

Invitation to be a beta tester

Dear readers,

This summer I've been working on a big writing project, something that might turn into a book, around the idea of Essential Experiences. My aim is to boil down the most consistently powerful, formative, awareness-building experiences of adolescence. The ones that we as parents and educators hope to give our kids, but might forget about in the rush of all the other things we're trying to accomplish. Each "Essential Experience" is a short chapter in this book, with research, stories, and rationale as to why an experience could be so formative. They start off simple, for example with the experience of keeping a journal (a simple but transformative practice in my own life, starting at age 10!). They get much more complex and challenging, like mediating a conflict between peers, learning how to deconstruct an advertisement, or taking the challenge of camping by yourself for a night.

Long story short: I'm looking for beta testers, people willing to give these ideas a test. That means you're either a teenager willing to try one of these, or if you're an adult, there are adolescents in your life who you could offer one of these to as a challenge. If you're interested, I'll send you the pre-publication, version 1.0 Essential Experiences list. For the first 20 people who respond, I’ll also send a hard-copy deck of Essential Experiences cards, as a fun way to play with these ideas. My only request in return is that you tell me how it goes! I'd love your feedback on the experiences, and to hear stories of how they resonate with a young person in your life.

Send me an email or leave a comment if you're interested and I'll send the Essential Experiences your way!

Chris

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It's About Time...

We have a strange and stressful relationship with time in our culture. Could it be in part because of how we're schooled? At most schools our days are broken up into odd little fragments. Classes start at times like 1:42, continue for arbitrary "blocks" of 48 or 55 minutes, and end abruptly with a bell which tells us to shift, machine-like, to the next task. The result is — oh wait, did I just hear a text come in? — the result is that our attention is fragmented, and we barely notice. What if we could shift to a more generous spirit around time? Could we find less fragmented ways to work? To do our "Deep Work", as Cal Newport describes in his book of the same name, and show students the same? How could we change the school day and even our use of time at home?

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Freedom of Identity

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.

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Conflict Resolution for Adolescents

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…

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Can School Be Home?

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?

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Essential Experiences

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?

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What is Human Potential?

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.

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Inner & Outer Doors

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?

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