The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. -Amelia Earhart
As I watch students work and learn, I pay close attention to the decisions they make. Adolescents need a lot of guidance with decision-making, but cannot be expected to make choices like adults. Meeting our students where they are developmentally and helping them grow will elicit much better results than demanding other behaviors. But teenagers also need space to try out making their own decisions, even if they are not the ones we would make.
Learning is an active process. Our students need to be the ones making the choices and taking action. As an educator, to truly become the guide on the side is difficult – allowing our students opportunities to take risks and fail is not as easy as it sounds. Many times we can predict how things will turn out and want to step in, but the experience can be ruined for our students if we interfere. We have to resist the urge to play superhero and come in to save the day.
This is not to say that we should give up complete control and guidance with our students. But at the moment of failure, we need to behave in the appropriate way. We need to encourage our students to respond themselves. It then becomes an experience of learning, of growth, and of tenacity for the student. So many times failure is seen as the end, but in a standards based culture of learning, it is just the starting point.
This call to action is not something that our students are used to. It takes practice, encouragement, and patience from the instructor to allow them to find this call. Our kids need to be given the opportunity and sometimes taught how to take action. They have been given extrinsic motivators in their past educational experiences and have no idea how great it feels to be intrinsically motivated.
Once students decide to act, the biggest hurdle has been crossed. They may not choose the course of action we would, but we need to see them out. We need to guide our students to become good decision makers, what an essential life skill! They need to make some poor decisions in the process to learn and grow – this is completely normal and necessary. When they find success on their own, it is so much more than any success we could hand them.