Thursday, May 9, 2013

Helping Teens To Be Successful

I had a great day yesterday. First,  I started by teaching my final two classes of the semester. I loved my students in both of these classes, they laughed at all my jokes (A for laughing) and more importantly (but not by much) they allowed themselves to be taught. The listened, they shared stories, and they made connections between what they were learning and their own life and development, and as they left the room they all thanked me for all I had taught them. There is nothing more gratifying.

From there I went to a program called Resiliency For Life. This is a program within a high school that gives kids who have found high school to be both a burden and a challenge a chance for success. I do parent workshops for this program, and was invited to attend a luncheon at which 5 students had a chance to share with the guests their stories and their struggles. I was so touched by the honesty and candor of these teens. They openly shared their aversion to school, to homework, to following through on responsibilities and their attraction to "having fun" which seemed to be a much stronger draw than school. These are kids who carry a lot of extra baggage. Many have issues with drugs and alcohol, struggles within their families, and with the juvenile justice system. These are the kids you don't expect to succeed, and yet here they are,  the unlikeliest of success stories. The two seniors had been accepted to college, the first ever in their families. And the remaining 3 students had gone from failing grades, and school suspensions to achieving for the first time. There was strong improvement in their grades, and more importantly, motivation to succeed and go on to college.

The students attributed their success to the relationships they have developed with the very dedicated teachers in this program. One student recalled his first "Aha" moment. He had been remiss on handing in homework assignments in a number of classes, and as the program requires, he had to stay after school with the Resiliency staff to complete it. But in his usual avoidance of taking responsibility, he would skip this after school commitment.  On this afternoon, a Resiliency teacher waited outside the room of his last class to escort him to his after school homework session urging him on to follow through and be successful. This student shared with us his realization that if this teacher cared enough about him to track him down, and encourage him to do what he needed to do, that that really meant something. He meant something. It wasn't about punishment, you stay after school or else, but about caring and support. I know you can do this, lets do it together. This was his turning point, and that of his fellow students in the program. These students all attributed their success to the support and belief that staff have in all the students that success and achievement is within their reach. And the most wonderful part of all this was seeing the pride that each and every student felt. This pride they wore as a badge of honor, "look what I can do!" Powerful stuff.

So how does this translate to you, and your teen who may struggle with these issues of avoidance and school apathy. You can be that compassionate adult. The adult that gets how hard this school thing can be sometimes, and that its not about the grades it's about feeling that sense of pride and accomplishment, and "I can do it" that these kids feel. These teachers are all over these kids. The continue to not only remind them of what is expected of them, but they help them with strategies to meet these expectations. Just saying to a kid "have you done your homework" doesn't give them a road map for success. The teacher who met the kid at his classroom door understood that given the choice of walking out the door to hang with friends, or staying after school, of course it's out the door. So this teacher's strategy, don't let him get out the door in the first place. Give him some good snacks, sit with him at the table, give him help and make staying after school something he looks forward to rather than avoids. You can do that too. Figure out what is getting in the way. and find an alternative. And most importantly try not to get discouraged. Kids really want to be successful, just ask these five unlikely students, they just need some help and some understanding.

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