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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The Having of Impossible Conversations

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…

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The Dog Days of January

At the beginning of the year, we had a seemingly simple proposal from a student: could she bring her dog in for a day? From this request, we plunged into a storm of community process, ultimately learning a bit about the pros and cons of having dogs at school, and a lot about decision making in community. Ultimately it became an opportunity to teach our students about the advice process, one of the most useful decision making tools I've come across and perhaps a fundamental skill for living in community.

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Parenthood as Waiting

My second child was born a week ago today, and the awe generated by that experience is still pouring out of me. Awe from seeing my wife transform during a heroic 27 hour labor. From holding my daughter in the very first seconds of her life. From watching her these past days and nights as she begins to reveal herself to a curious world. Yet as I reflect on the birth, and perhaps seek new insights for parenting now that I have two children, something that was only in the corner of my eye during the labor keeps coming to mind.

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Be a Ritual Maker

We all create and follow rituals, but we don't all see ourselves as conscious ritual creators. I believe this is one of the hallmarks of great teachers and great parents, perhaps of successful leaders in general. I learned this, as usual, by making mistakes, forgetting to create a ritual and then reckoning with the chaos that followed. It all began with a chaotic morning at a new school...

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