This title is a somewhat unusual way of thinking of our roles as educators and as parents in raising our children, our students. Every organization has a purpose and vision – their North Star – toward which they labor. A family, a classroom, a school are all organizations and, like a business or a nonprofit, it helps to be clear about its North Star.
- What kind of human being do we want our children to be when they are adults?
- What kind of human being do we want our students to be when they leave our school?
- What kind of employee will serve our global family?
My daughter asked me when she was 9 years old, “Mom, what do you want me to be?” I said, “I want you to be happy.” She responded, “No, mom, what do you want to do when I grow up?” I answered, “It doesn’t matter to me what you want to do when you grow up. Whatever it is, what is important to me is that you are happy doing it.”
Over my nearly 50 years of being a parent and an educator, I’ve learned that we thrive when we feel that we belong; when we have trusting relationships that nourish us. We thrive when we have self-respect and the respect of others. We thrive when who we uniquely are is valued. My mentor, Sr. Joan Madden, said to me when I was in the first year of teaching and, at the same time, in my first year as a parent, that children need:
- To be listened to.
- To be taken seriously.
- To have experiences where they matter, where they make a difference.
In my retirement I am committed to supporting thriving schools through the work I do with Awakening Wisdom, a school culture approach to social emotional wellbeing. When I saw the rising rates of teen stress, anxiety, depression, and, unfortunately, suicide, I could not simply retire to garden, learn to paint, or travel, when I knew of a way to lessen these alarming trends.
I believe that students today are starving to be listened to, to be taken seriously, and to feel that they matter. I believe that if these needs are fulfilled in homes and in schools, students would feel a sense of their own power, which would fuel their engagement in school. Data shows that by the time our nation’s youth are in high school, 40% are sleep-walking through school.
Besides creating trusting relationships with their teachers, student autonomy needs to be nurtured by inviting their voice and giving them choice. This is especially important for adolescents whose growing need to discover who they are is fostered by schools providing opportunities for appropriate choice-making. Being agents of their choices allows them to discover their own power, resulting in more engagement.
We all need to feel that we belong, that we have trusting relationships that feed this need to belong. We all need to feel that we have self-respect, that we have the respect of others, that who we uniquely are is valued. Awakening Wisdom is about creating an environment where all aspects nurture these needs in students to become responsible, happy, and resilient adults.