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Changing the Way We Advocate for Students

Changing the Way We Advocate for Students

Do you know parents or teachers who are so tired of bickering with their teens that they:

  • Make a separate dinner for their children because they are a picky eater?
  • Offer the answers to the test because it’s easier than insisting they study?
  • Allow them to play video games all day, even when it becomes addictive?

While moms and dads have fallen into these traps for decades, these tendencies are on the rise today. We somehow feel it’s a better alternative than expecting those teens to keep a standard. These people feel they’re helping their children. It’s a new way to practice child advocacy.

But is it really advocacy?

Child Advocacy

Children have always needed adults to advocate for them. In 1938, child labor laws were put into place to ensure kids were not forced to work in conditions that jeopardized their health. In 1984, John Walsh’s work prompted the federal government to launch the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, after his son Adam was abducted. Child advocacy centers now exist in numerous states across the U.S., and UNICEF exists to protect kids worldwide. Child advocacy refers to a range of individuals, professionals, and organizations who speak out on behalf of children. An individual or organization engaging in advocacy typically seeks to protect children’s rights which may be abused in a variety of contexts.

I suggest that in some cases what we do in the name of advocacy may actually be unintentional abuse.

How Did This Become the Norm?

Norms have changed over the forty years since I became an adult. When I was a teen, parents and teachers who saw young people encounter a tough challenge would empathize with them, but they rarely removed it— at least in my experience. My parents and teachers were good and fair people, but as I faced difficulties, they encouraged me to be brave:

  • When I contracted juvenile diabetes.
  • When I was in a bad bicycle accident.
  • When I broke up with a girlfriend.
  • When I performed poorly on a test.
  • When I had a car accident.

I never once saw an adult act as if I had faced an inexcusable injustice. I was informed that sometimes life is not fair. And sometimes, it isn’t anyone’s fault. Bad weather. Broken bones. Long waits. Even viruses.

The way we lead students often determines the kind of adults and leaders they’ll become one day. Our paradigms become their paradigms. When we panic, they learn to panic. When we are brave, they learn courage. My question is if we see a growing number of students demanding the world change to make life easier for them, did they learn this mindset from us? Consider this: We will foster one of two paradigms in students when they face a challenge:

  • Change your situation. (Try to make your reality easier.)
  • Change your concentration. (Try to make the most of your reality.)

Millions of parents have shifted their approach to raising their kids today. In our commitment to being our children’s advocates, we do more than advocate. We try to control. When we see them encounter a tough situation, we often intrude, trying to make that situation easier. We want to relieve the tension and lower their stress. Our goal is to modify the externals instead of developing our children’s internal locus of control. Over time, they continue to need us to take care of their situations because we’ve failed to equip them to handle tough times. Instead of teaching them to own their problems, we taught them to demand externals change.

But this is seldom the best answer. It may be a new form of unintentional child abuse.

Changing the Way We Advocate for Them

I suggest we return to a focus on preparing our kids instead of merely protecting our kids. What if the next time they face a problem, our advocacy looked like this:

“I am so sorry you’re in a tough spot. I am here to support you as you solve this problem.  The good news is, I know you can do it. I’ve watched you and know you have what it takes to thrive. I believe in you and your abilities.”

What we choose to do will cultivate a predisposition in our kids. When in difficult circumstances, they’ll default to our mindset. Will they learn: “I can do this. The adults in my life believe I am capable.” Or will they learn: “Don’t adapt internally, try to adapt your environment to your liking.”

Over the last decade, college students have begun an outcry against guest speakers on campuses who disagree with their point of view. I was on two such campuses, and I felt embarrassed for these students. They came across like immature children who didn’t get their way. I had to ask myself: Did the leaders in these students’ lives give them the idea that this is the best solution?

In my opinion, it is unnecessary drama.

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How to Encourage Healthy Vulnerability in the Most Private Generation

How to Encourage Healthy Vulnerability in the Most Private Generation

I spoke to a college freshman who is among a growing number of students who are getting off of social media. Yes—you read that correctly. She’s done with it. When I asked her reasons why, she confided in me, “I’m just tired of getting requests from people I don’t even know. I guess I am getting more…” She paused, then continued. “More private.”

Generation Z learned much from the Millennial generation before them. Because Millennials were the first generation of adolescents to experience social media, they were the guinea pigs to all its benefits and consequences. One of the many penalties of social media platforms is its allure for users to crave followers, likes, shares, views, and retweets. In their appetite for all of those, Millennials fell prey to stalkers, bullies, predators and even employers who saw their posts on Instagram or Facebook before the job interview and chose not to hire them because of those posts.

In response, Generation Z is more secretive than previous generations. According to Global Web Index, Gen Z is more private than Millennials about their information and profile and nearly 6 in 10 is making a conscious effort to spend less time on sites. They are more individualistic and independent, with a majority preferring to learn alone and be alone than the past generation of kids. They’re prone to share a vanishing message (like Snapchat) than older generations. They’ll have an Instagram profile but may have several “Finsta” (fake Instagram) profiles with loads of content, photos, videos and comments they’ll never share with adults.

We all agree, learning to be private on social media is a good thing. But allowing that to hinder appropriate vulnerability off-line is an entirely different thing they must “unlearn.”

What’s Trending Today with Students

Today’s adolescents tend to fall into one of two extremes, as their brain matures. They either share too much (becoming too vulnerable), or they become afraid of being vulnerable at all, having been burned by their past transparency. They may fear taking future risks.

But—taking risks is usually how we grow. We must help them to be appropriately vulnerable.

Let me share a case study with you and outline the simple steps I learned to take with students. I met Rich while working with San Diego State University students. He was soft-spoken, even quiet, and didn’t say much unless you asked him a question. When he did speak up, however, I noticed he was very natural and winsome with peers. I felt he could lead one of our study groups, so I approached him and asked him to do so. It didn’t go well. He told me he was an introvert; he felt intimidated by social situations and couldn’t see himself leading anything.

But I knew he could do it. Rich just feared becoming vulnerable.

So, after a week, I approached Rich again and said, “I know you don’t want to lead a learning community, but would you consider being part of one?” Rich paused, looking at the ground, and again expressed his reservation about social situations. I assured him he didn’t need to say a thing, but I knew he’d benefit from such an experience. Fortunately, Rich took the plunge.

After a semester, I asked Rich how it was going. He smiled and replied he’d made some great friends and was so glad to be part of the group.

At that, I took another step, saying, “Rich, I know you don’t want to lead a group, but would you at least consider taking another step? I have a group that needs an apprentice. He looked puzzled. I explained that an apprentice is simply a helper who makes sure to message everyone in the group about the time and place to meet and to assign someone to bring snacks.

Rich replied, “Oh, I guess I could do that.”

That spring semester, Rich served as an apprentice brilliantly. In fact, twice the group leader was out of town and unable to host the group. Guess who was next in line to lead? Rich was. He was fantastic. He hosted it in his own way, his own style and everyone loved his style.

By the next semester, Rich was leading one of our study groups. In fact, when I moved from San Diego, Rich was the leader of all the study group leaders. He’d been transformed.

Six Simple Steps to Help Students Become Vulnerable

My simple challenges became helpful steppingstones for Rich. How could these help you?

  1. Identify the strengths of the student as well as a slow path of growth.
  2. Offer a challenge that represents a single and small step forward.
  3. Promise them support as they take that first step into their challenge.
  4. Check-in on their progress and make sure they see their own growth.
  5. Provide them subsequent and sequential “baby steps” to continue their growth.
  6. Affirm each success along the way, clarifying they can see their once hidden abilities.

Rich didn’t see his potential at first but become appropriately vulnerable and grew into it. May you find your own students who need this kind of leadership.

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Five Steps to Lead Students Wisely During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Five Steps to Lead Students Wisely During the Coronavirus Pandemic

What most of us assumed would go away in a matter of days in China, has become a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. The Coronavirus is now headline news on every major network and on social media feeds everywhere. We can’t escape it.

Sarah Sparks, reporter and data journalist for Education Week, writes:

Epidemiologists measure how contagious a disease is by its ‘basic reproduction number,’ or R0 (pronounced ‘are-not’), meaning the number of people each infected person would be expected to infect in turn. So far, experts believe the Coronavirus to have an R0 of about 2-2.5, meaning each infected person would be expected to pass it on to another two or so people. That is nearly twice as contagious as the flu, which has an R0 of 1.3, but much less contagious than another childhood illness, measles, which one infected person could spread to as many as 30 people in a bad outbreak. Based on this base level, children should be more likely to contract Coronavirus than the flu.”

How Do We Communicate and Lead Our Students in Such Times?

Schools can be hothouses for such disease outbreaks because kids are in close quarters, but also because adults have had more exposure to various illnesses over time. COVID-19 seems to be new to everyone. As of today, 174,818 have been infected and 6,686 have died globally.

So how do we lead our kids well during such times? Let me offer some ideas below.

Five Steps We Can Take to Lead Students Well

1. Don’t Exaggerate to Make Your Point

Kids get used to filtering what is said to them. When adults use hyperbole, students know they must adjust their expectations and believe about half of what is said to them. They don’t take us seriously. When we use words like “awesome” or “perfect” we mean well, but listeners know it’s over-speak. It’s not really that way. Share facts about the Coronavirus and how to judiciously respond. There should be no “panic” in our voice, and no exaggeration in our words.

2. Lead from Wisdom Not Fear

Be honest about wise steps everyone should take, but don’t motivate them from fear. It’s the difference between telling young children: “Don’t play in traffic—you’ll get hit by a car!” instead of saying, “It’s wise to look both ways when you’re near a street.” Too often, adults lead students out of panic or fear and we unintentionally communicate those emotions to them. Our level of panic can be just as viral as the Coronavirus. Don’t think “worry,” think “wisdom.”

3. Establish a New Normal

I am almost certain you’ve done this already in your home, school or organization, but every person needs to adhere to a new normal in terms of lifestyle: Frequent hand-washing for 20 seconds, coughing into your elbow, not touching handles or knobs if possible, and if you use a tissue, don’t stuff it into a desk or on a table, but put it into a lined trash bag immediately. While this may sound outlandish, it’s small steps like these that can slow down the spread of a virus and enable more people to remain healthy and strong.

4. Communicate Your Temporary New Normal Early

This one is a no-brainer, but make sure you are thorough and prompt talking with your students about how you plan to interact in light of the Coronavirus.  No hugs, handshakes or close contact for a while; working remotely (as many schools and colleges are doing now) and avoiding in-person time when the topic can be covered in a virtual meeting. Students will make light of the threat unless you are quick to relay the “new normal” and the “why” upfront with them. Leaders fair better when they get ahead of everyone on needed communication.

5. Take Advantage of This Teachable Moment

Every few years, our world experiences a sobering health crisis, mass shooting or global tragedy that harnesses our attention and captures our imagination. It becomes the topic of discussion at the “water cooler” or in the restroom. I believe the Coronavirus is a perfect opportunity to seize and talk about matters of the heart—the importance of life, family, health and even what we value. Just like weddings and funerals bring people together, this season can be leveraged for conversations about priorities.

It’s likely we’ll all look back on this spring of 2020 and remember how scary it was for so many. May our memories be fond because we led our students well.

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The Power of “Good” Referrals with Students

The Power of “Good” Referrals with Students

I love the story of the 7-year old girl who grabbed her baseball bat, her mitt and a ball and asked her dad if they could go outside and play some baseball. She then followed her request with some clear instructions for him: “I’ll hit the ball, and you say, ‘good job.’”

It has been said, “Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.”

Most of us think we don’t need words of affirmation to get through our day, but in reality, we fair better when someone affirms the good we’re accomplishing. Unfortunately, people are far better at negative expressions than positive ones. This is true for students and adults.

I love how one school decided to change the narrative.

How One Good Idea Got Sparked  

McEachern High School is part of Cobb County Schools, located northwest of Atlanta, GA. Like most high schools, their teachers must “write up” students for breaking rules or poor conduct. For some students, this means being sent to the Assistant Principal’s office for detentions, suspensions or some other punishment. The fact is, this usually doesn’t make things better. According to research, those punishments don’t improve students’ behavior.

Dr. Matthew Lawrence, a history and economics teacher, said he had a ritual. Every Friday, he’d return home and begin making phone calls regarding all the “bad things” students had done: failing grades, poor behavior, absentees, etc. Afterward, he started recalling how some of his students had modeled excellent attitudes or work and felt he should call their parents as well. When he did, it had an immediate effect. Those students would come in on Monday, very appreciative of what Dr. Lawrence had initiated. And, that behavior continued.

All Matt needed was an official way to “write up” positive performance, not just negative.

At McEachern High School, teachers now have the option to change their approach to discipline by writing kids up for positive behaviors instead of focusing on negative ones. They have a new kind of “referral form.” Starting with Dr. Lawrence and continuing to most of the faculty, they are “writing up” the great attitudes and actions and performances students are modeling. According to an NPR article, “The document goes to assistant principal Dan Torrenti. He calls students into his office one by one. They have no idea why they’re being summoned. Torrenti surprises them with the good news. He calls their parents in front of them to tell them, too. He gives them a copy of the referral. Another copy goes in their file, the way a report card would.”

Becoming a Good Finder

This obviously requires a paradigm shift for teachers, who are conditioned to spot anything wrong. Now, these faculty have their antennas up to spot anything good, not just wrong. And there is good reason to believe it could change the campus culture. Rutgers University psychology professor Anne Gregory says, “We have a lot of evidence that praising positive behavior can strengthen that positive behavior, especially when teachers are using what’s called ‘specific praise.’”

This changes a student’s perception of the “principal’s office” and “referral forms.”

“Kids who are sometimes on the borderline of making bad decisions, if you catch them doing something good and write them up for doing something good, I’ve found it can change their entire trajectory for the rest of the semester,” Lawrence said.

Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, used to talk about becoming a “good finder.” He reported that people who are able to find something good to say about another person within the first 30 seconds of meeting them, tend to be happier and more successful throughout their lives. This simply means that both the giver and the receiver of “good finding” can benefit.

Years ago, research psychologist John Gottman discovered that people—perhaps especially young people—need a 5 to 1 ratio:  To maintain positive progress, they need five positive affirmations for every one negative criticism. This means that most schools have the referral system all wrong. Students need both clear constructive criticism and clear positive affirmation as well. Not hyperbole. Just genuine, specific, positive affirmation. Matt Lawrence can vouch for this at McEachern High School with his positive referrals:

“The word will kind of get out that somebody got one of these [positive referrals] and then I’ll have other students come to me and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Lawrence, what do I have to do to get one of those?’” he said. “I’ll tell them, ‘You’ve got to take care of business, and you’ve got to impress me, and we’ll see what happens.”

If you’re not already doing this, I encourage you to begin, and like Lawrence, see what happens.

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What Employers Should Expect from Generation Z: Vocation Rotation

What Employers Should Expect from Generation Z: Vocation Rotation

My head was spinning after talking to Zoe, a 21-year-old who’s quite ambitious. She is taking college courses, has a job on campus, as well as two-side hustles, one as an Uber driver and the other, an app-based non-profit leader Zoe started herself to launch her career.

She has some “gigs” going and feels very empowered.

This is what’s trending in the American workplace. In fact, the recent passing of California’s Assembly Bill 5 that turns app-based workers into full-fledged employees has raised many questions as to the ethics and state of the so-called “gig economy” in general.

What’s the Paradigm Shift Employers Must Make

Fifty years ago, we lived in an employer-controlled marketplace. The company determined the jobs, the pay scale and whether they offered healthcare or promoted women, and they displayed the attitude that you’re fortunate to have a job here. And, that may well have been true.

Today, expectations among our youngest workforce are rising. It’s a buyer’s market, unemployment is low, and people can be selective about expectations. One employer recently told me when he interviewed a recent graduate, the potential employee actually interviewed him, asking about perks and benefits at the company. In short, young people are choosy. The employer said he’s been asked in job interviews:

  • Do you provide childcare?
  • Do you provide PTO (paid time off) for development?
  • Do you provide food and snacks?
  • Do you have a gym?
  • Do you provide a career path and development?

When they don’t get a good answer, they may move on.

About 44 percent of gig workers say their work in the gig economy is now their primary source of income, which leaves 56 percent reporting it as supplemental income. Gen Z feels empowered by the smart device in their hand. While it’s causing anxiety and other mental health issues, it’s also liberating them to seize control of their future. Fewer see themselves as a servant to a boss; or a climber on someone’s corporate ladder. They are “hackers” who are savvy enough to decode the normal protocols or systems. They’ll find a way to make options work for them. A growing percentage are not doing the typical four-year, liberal arts college experience. It’s a track they may not want to go down, and today — there are other viable options for a smart kid.

The Gig Economy and the Hacker Economy

We are moving more deeply into a “gig economy.” The gig economy is a free market system where organizations and independent workers engage in short-term work arrangements. According to the BLS, in 2017 the U.S. gig economy had 55 million participants. It’s estimated that 36 percent of US workers take part in the gig economy and 33 percent of companies extensively use gig workers.  The word “gig” refers to the transient nature of the job itself. Think Uber or Lyft drivers. Think Airbnb landlords.

  • Think contract workers.
  • Think freelancers.
  • Think consultants.
  • Think temp workers.

What was perceived as merely a “side hustle” a few years ago, turned into a trillion-dollar industry with millions of participants involved. Technology has made this all possible. But the gig economy also implies short. A young team member may do a gig here and a gig there, and he or she may have six jobs in their twenties. After all, they get bored quickly.

It favors the worker — who can be paid per hour or project; they can choose what they do and when they do it, a little like Uber or Lyft. They maintain agency and freedom of choice. They may say:

“To me, life is a cafeteria. Just like a meal at a buffet, I’m choosing what’s best for me and want to join hands with an employer (leader) who has my best interest in mind, not just what’s best for the organization.”

How Do We Adjust our Leadership?  

As I suggested above, I believe we must adjust our expectations. By this, I don’t mean we expect less — just different. And we must capitalize on it. Some now call this new mindset:

“A Vocation Rotation”

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt decided to embrace this by telling potential young team members: “We’ll be the best first job you could ever have.” When teens go to work there, a manager sits down with them and asks: “What do you most want to learn from a job?” If the young team members say, “managing money” they get to watch the bookkeepers balance revenue and expenses and perhaps even learn to do it themselves. The job becomes rocket fuel for the next step of their career path. Franchisees don’t expect most to stay longer than two years.

What if we built workplaces that made investments in young team members and, maybe, kept them longer because they were getting mentored? In other words, we don’t shame them into staying — we win them. Then, knowing they are likely desirous of a “vocation rotation,” what if we celebrated change and offered suggestions for their next step with us? What if we equipped them to look for common threads in each of those jobs and find their calling in the process?

In this gig economy, we must remember Generation Z is silently asking us as leaders:

  • Do you care about me as a person, not just a worker?
  • Do you offer me developmental and growth opportunities not just training for the task?
  • Do you provide help outside of work (i.e. rideshare, discounts, etc.)?
  • Do you provide an app that clearly communicates steps for what I need to do?
  • Do you celebrate my growth and future opportunities?

Let’s equip them on their vocation rotation.

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New Study: Students Who Can Manage Emotions Do Better Academically and In Life

New Study: Students Who Can Manage Emotions Do Better Academically and In Life

It was a tense moment in the classroom, as two students saw each other’s grades after a mid-term exam. Lamar and Jason had both studied hard, so it was crushing for Lamar to see that he’d gotten 78 percent on his test, and Jason had scored 93 percent.

Jason tried to lighten up the tension a bit, by saying, “Well, at least you got your Air Jordans!” This did not help in the moment.

Lamar immediately fumed at Jason to “Go to h*ll. You best f*@# off before I help you!”

Jason felt horrible. Lamar was a friend. He wasn’t sure what just happened. Before he could stop himself, the two started yelling at each other until a faculty member calmed them down. Lamar was experiencing some common emotions at that moment:

  1. He began emotionally flooding, unsure of how to process what he felt.
  2. He instantly fell into a comparison trap and felt like a loser.
  3. He sensed his emotions rising and expressed them with no filters.

What started as an anemic, even senseless interaction became an emotional volcano. It meant nothing—yet can be explained by two realities: one student failed to read the emotional sensitivity of the moment in a classmate, and the other was unable to manage his emotional flooding. Neither of the two students knew how to describe what they felt.

The Advantage of Managing Emotions

While this outburst seems completely detached from academic achievement, it’s actually tied to it very closely according to a new study.  The fact is, emotional intelligence is an important part of academic success—from kindergarten to college. To be specific, students who understand and can manage their emotions earn higher grades and do better on standardized tests.

The findings help bolster a growing consensus among researchers that skills such as emotional intelligence are not just important for future workplace success but also students’ academic success right now. The results are also likely to help schools make the case that investing in teaching social-emotional skills will bring a payoff in improved student achievement.

The study was published in the journal by the American Psychological Association.

As a scientific topic, emotional intelligence is a relatively new construct, especially when compared to intelligence or personality. The first academic article on it appeared in 1990, and the subject only became mainstream in 1995 when author Daniel Goleman published his book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

Truth be told I believe we should pay as much attention to EQ as we do IQ.

What Can We Do to Help Students to Succeed?

While I admire teachers, who are brilliant at enabling their students to engage in course curriculum, I believe their job would be simplified if schools could embed conversations and discoveries about emotional intelligence into their classrooms:

  1. Improving your self-awareness.
  2. Improving your self-management.
  3. Improving your social awareness.
  4. Improving your relationship management.

While none of these seems very scholarly, they affect scholarship directly. Students are not walking brains; they are whole people, with emotions, insecurities, fears, and needs that can’t be divorced from their ability to listen and retain information in a classroom. Unplanned conflict will occur, like the one above with Lamar and Jason, and suddenly two smart people can be reduced to emotional reactors, showing very little logic. So, I suggest the following:

For Individual Students:

  • Talk about this subject and the need to manage emotions.
  • Teach them to count to 10 before reacting to anything emotional.
  • Help them see that emotional subjects should be discussed in person, not on a screen.

For Classrooms, Teams, and Schools:

  • Help students learn from videos and case studies on this topic.
  • Host regular discussions on issues like critical thinking, empathy, and listening.
  • Check out our four-year course: Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning.

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What We Can Learn from the Summerhill School Experiment

What We Can Learn from the Summerhill School Experiment

Back in 1921, a radical experiment was launched in the United Kingdom. It was a school, if you can call it that, that was so unorthodox, it instantly created debate and controversy. It was called the Summerhill School experiment.

Began by Scottish educator, Alexander Sutherland Neill, this school empowers students to choose what they’d like to learn, to experiment, explore and even openly admit when they were wrong or made a mistake. The goal was to be emotionally ready for life when students became adults, not just academically ready.

This was a need—even a hundred years ago.

A School Where Emotions Are Free

One description summarized the school this way: “Summerhill School in England helped to pioneer the ‘free school’ philosophy, in which lessons are never mandatory and nearly every aspect of student life can be put to a vote. Neill’s radical and controversial view of education was centered on his belief that ‘if the emotions are free, the intellect looks after itself.’”

There are virtually no rules like typical schools have, students respect each other and the adults who oversee them, but they don’t fear the adults. Neill objected to traditional education models because, in his words, they “begin with the neck and move upward, but don’t affect the rest of the young person, their body or their emotions.”

He concluded, “So we get people graduating school with book learning but unready for life itself.” Like others, Neill felt most schools push children to listen and memorize, but that’s all. They fail to include the other activities the real world will require of them as adults.

Wow. Does this issue sound familiar?

A School for the Development of the Whole Student

Neill said, “I wanted to start a school where emotions were just as real as any other part of a human being.” Just like in real life. In short, Neill believed that humans possess a mind, a will and emotions. Traditional schools consciously address the mind but that’s it. Consequently, kids move into adulthood with undeveloped or unhealthy emotions.

So, how does Summerhill work?

  • The school operates as a boarding and day school with residents.
  • Their meetings are often outside.
  • The word lesson is never used.
  • The meetings are self-guided with an adult chaperone.
  • The meetings include different ages of kids.
  • The meetings are facilitated by a kid “chairman,” voted on by peers.
  • The meetings are set up to foster a love of life and growth.

Can a school really operate like this?

That is part of the ongoing debate. Yet, a typical scenario illustrates what generally happens when kids are in control.  One teen student commented in a video on Summerhill, “Every year, at least one kid suggests that we do away with a set bedtime. When a vote is taken and others agree, everyone stays up past 10:15 pm, but they wake up tired, cranky and even sick after a week. At that point, the kids see the wisdom of a bedtime, and they return to it.”

What Can We Learn From the Summerhill School

Let me offer my perspective on the “pros” and “cons” of the Summerhill experience:


  1. The daily experience can be messy, as children with undeveloped brains are in charge.
  2. The daily learning takes longer because self-discovery, not lesson plans teach them.
  3. The daily process involves risks and mistakes more so than in traditional schools.


  1. Students actually mature holistically and are more ready for real-life when finished.
  2. Students make better decisions through peer accountability and experimentation.
  3. Students practice metacognition and “own” their learning since they choose it.

Probably the most positive outcome achieved by the Summerhill School is something we now call “social and emotional learning.” It fosters growth beyond academics because their experience is more than cognitive stimulation. It involves managing emotions and relationships. Even if we don’t adopt Summerhill’s pedagogy, we’d do well to share this goal.

My guess is, you’re probably thinking of all kinds of reasons why Summerhill is a bad idea. I’d like to challenge our traditional models, however, and ask: Could we adopt at least part of our model for teaching Generation Z and allow them to grow holistically? Could we foster more ownership? Are there some “pros” in the Summerhill model you wish you could experience?

Interested in Social and Emotional Learning conversation starters? Check out Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning HERE.

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Five Ways to Help Students Cure a Culture of Rudeness

Five Ways to Help Students Cure a Culture of Rudeness

A video sparked an online debate recently. In case, you didn’t see it, Wendi Williams, a passenger on an American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, decided to recline her seat to rest after the food was served.

When she did, she got a rude awakening.

The passenger behind her immediately chose to display his displeasure with her decision by punching her seatback repeatedly, over and over to get her to put her seat in the upright position. Wendi was startled at first, then gave the man punching her seat a “look” before asking for help from a flight attendant. None of this stopped him from punching her seat again and again. The debate on social media?  Is it OK to recline your seats in the economy class?

I believe there is a much bigger debate.

After watching the video (posted by another passenger across the aisle) I couldn’t believe that this was the recourse a grown man (young but still a man, not a two-year-old) decided was the best reaction to the situation. I fly a hundred times a year, and I find this kind of childish behavior more and more common. And it’s adults. My questions are:

  • When did we lose the ability to tolerate a person reclining their seat in front of us?
  • When did we decide it was OK to deal with it in an immature fashion like this?
  • When did we cease talking directly to an offensive person to resolve an issue?

Our Growing Intolerance and Incivility

When I look at behavior patterns in society, it appears incivility increased sharply as screens became central in our lives. The moment we can interact with people and information via a portable device, we unconsciously realize we don’t have to act like adults. We can react. We can vent. We can exaggerate. And we can hide behind a screen.

What’s most sad to me is that this is the world in which our kids are growing up.

Because we can interface in the “public square” in private, we’ve seen both good and bad results. The story above illustrates the dark side of our public square habits. Because we can behave badly on social media, we seem to carry the incivility into face-to-face contexts.

Social media has, indeed, become our public square. It’s where we host our cultural debates and post our opinions or reactions to what’s just happened. Sadly, we were ambushed by the platform social media gave us. Instead of face to face communication, which is tempered by the very fact that you are face to face with others, we hide behind small screens and vent about issues, yelling at each other with multiple exclamation points.

Futurist Leonard Sweet describes our current reality well: “Any entrance into the public arena is enough to give you high blood pressure and low self-esteem.”

Helping Our Students to Cure a Culture of Rudeness

Generation Z is the first population to grow up with social media. While their brains are still forming, these teens have access to all kinds of posts and information. Sometimes it’s the adults who can’t behave properly. The first reality I try to make them aware of is simply this:

Social media is like a swimming pool. All the noise comes from the shallow end.

With that as a foundation, here are a handful of shifts we must make as we converse with students about the “public arena” of social media:

1. We must replace reaction with reflection.

When you see a post that angers you or causes an emotional reaction, don’t reply. Instead, reflect. What’s behind that post? What is that person experiencing?

2. We must replace hyperbole with honesty and accuracy.

When you do post, refuse to exaggerate or use exclamation points. Just make your statement and let the idea carry the weight. If it’s not weighty enough, don’t post it.

3. We must replace the artificial with the authentic.

Too many posts (usually pics and videos) on social media are filtered; fake, not real. We claim to love authenticity, so be genuine about your ordinary day and unfiltered photo.

4. We must replace a lecture posture with a listening posture.

When I read social media threads, I seldom see real listening. We all want to lecture on our point of view. What if we listened and asked questions? We may just become civil.

5. We must replace the crude with the civil.

Civility is what civilization is about. We are a diverse community that must learn to get along, starting with our words, or we’ll stay severed in factions. Listen, learn and love.

If civility is a needed topic in your school or home or student group, I encouraged you to check out: Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning HERE.

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Three Ways Generation Z is Breaking from Older Generations

Three Ways Generation Z is Breaking from Older Generations

Kids who’ve grown up in the  21st century have a different childhood and adolescent experience than previous generations, including the Millennials. Generation Z has grown up with:

  • The Internet
  • Smart technology
  • Frequent mass shooting
  • Terrorism
  • Social media
  • A polarized adult population

Inspired by my friend, researcher, and educator, Corey Seemiller, author of the book Generation Z: A Century in the Making, I offer you three macro-level observations on how Gen Z is breaking from past generations. I’m not saying we must agree with all kids do today, but simply, we must recognize what’s trending so we can lead them well.

1. Voting

Because so many in Generation Z see themselves as activists, we see them jump into social or political activism. Many from Generation Z have chosen to side with progressives (due to their interest in issues such as gender equality, gun control, and global warming). At the same time, there’s a surprising number of Generation Z members who side with conservatives, believing it is important to conserve what our nation has stood for (in their words.) I’ve met students on both sides of the issues on college campuses. As a whole, Generation Z is socially liberal but fiscally conservative. This may just mean no presidential candidate is attractive to them.

A growing number have determined that voting is not a valuable way to bring about change and progress. They see most of the major political candidates running for president (in both major parties) are 70 years old or older and they’re concerned over the corruption and greed they see in politicians. While some do take sides with traditional parties, many are following the path of past youth generations and will not vote at all (It’s common for youth populations to not vote in political elections as often as older populations).

Hundreds of thousands of Generation Z members want to expand their influence beyond a single vote at a polling center. They want to march, to get petitions signed, to get bills passed and to demonstrate for what they believe. Unlike Millennials they may discard the institutions people typically use to make a difference and make up their own. We must embrace these young change agents who challenge our current reality.

2. Volunteering

While early Millennials signed up to volunteer their time to their communities, and many high school and university campuses made volunteering mandatory, Generation Z has learned from them and wants to build on that foundation. Traditional volunteerism is down. Take an issue like hunger for example. Instead of volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen, they want to address the very reason people have to volunteer at such places to begin with. A large number want to do something even more strategic about the hunger problem. A group of college students recently told me of their ideas for a sustainable solution to solve the hunger problem.

So, 15-20 years ago, when student volunteering came in vogue, many kids did so because they liked the way they felt when they volunteered. Generation Z wants to take it a step further — asking why can’t our service get to the root of an issue and solve the problem?

When professor Corey Seemiller reminded her students, they must do 10 hours of community service as part of the course requirement, one student raised her hand to ask: “Can I count the time I spend running my non-profit as my volunteer hours?” Corey was amazed and said, “Yes, of course. And anyone else in here who’s leading a non-profit can do so as well.”

It seems each new generation builds on the lessons of the past. Today, high school students have a smartphone in their hand and yearn for more strategic and deeper involvement than mere volunteerism. We must help them think through creative solutions and encourage them.

3. Values

Millennials were driven by idealism and too many failed to be pragmatic. They believed they could change the world quickly and easily, assuming others would jump on board with them. Millions got a rude awakening. Change is usually hard and slow. Fifteen years ago, the joke on college campuses was: Students graduate and believe they will change the world by noon on Friday…and then get an apartment.

Today, a growing number from Generation Z tends to be more pragmatic and innovative. When adults let them alone to ponder, their values surface. They embody an entrepreneurial spirit. Seventy-two percent of high school students plan to be an entrepreneur. Almost half still want to by the time they reach college. Millions from Generation Z would say making a difference is more important than making money.

Yet, their pragmatism surfaces differently than in adults. They cut through many of the issues that adults debate, feeling they are not the real issues. Take gender identity for example. I will paraphrase what one student said recently: People debate so long and hard about ensuring proper bathrooms are available to use in public places. I want to focus on conserving water in said bathrooms.

While I believe the issue is far bigger than Generation Z believes it is, I want us to note the pragmatism in this student’s mind. Often Generation Z doesn’t see why older generations spend so much time nitpicking at issues they find less important. To be clear, all youth populations bring a mindset that doesn’t include the experience elders possess. At the same time, those youth populations signal what is coming. According to one poll, almost 40 percent of Gen Z plans to “change the world” through an invention they create. They want to design and create to solve the world’s complex problems. Will we be open to listening as they challenge our systems in unexpected ways?

Want more on Generation Z? Check out our new book: Generation Z Unfiltered HERE.

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Teaching Students Subjects That Don’t Come Natural for Them

Teaching Students Subjects That Don’t Come Natural for Them

One of the most frustrating experiences for a teacher or a parent is trying to teach something to a young person—something we know will help them succeed later—and finding them unresponsive. It matters not what the subject is:

  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Changing a tire
  • Work ethic
  • Writing and communication

I spoke to a history teacher recently who said she was “at the end of her rope.” Her students showed no interest in world history and appeared distracted during her class period. As we discussed what was happening and how she approached her subject, I noted a pattern:

  1. She kept repeating the content they failed to grasp.
  2. She raised her voice and threatened them with poor scores.
  3. She sighed and reacted in frustration when they failed or checked out.

The Curse of Expertise

At least part of this problem is what psychologists call “the curse of expertise.” This is the difficulty someone experiences explaining or teaching a subject they mastered a long time ago. The hardship is even greater if the subject came naturally to the teacher or parent. Consider this—those who are very good at something are often not the best teachers. Why? It was instinctive for them more than it was learned. It was a natural interest, skill or talent.

Take baseball for example. Some of Major League Baseball’s greatest players did not become the sport’s greatest coaches or managers. Why? The curse of expertise. If hitting came naturally, it was difficult to explain to a young ballplayer and too easy to get frustrated with that player and say, “Just watch the ball, and hit it.” The natural ones oversimplified it.

Charley Lau is known as one of the greatest and most famous professional hitting coaches. The keys to his success were quite simple:

  1. He wasn’t the greatest, most natural hitter himself. It was learned.
  2. He studied those who did hit well and found patterns to pass along.

What enabled Charley Lau to teach young athletes is that he never forgot the striving he went through when he learned to hit a baseball. He returned to it over and over. When we become impatient teachers—and too often, we do—it signals our frustration and causes them to recoil. In fact, our frustration cultivates frustration in our students. They can read our non-verbal signals of annoyance with them. We become exasperated, all the while they’re looking for cues that they are improving and pleasing to the teacher, parents, faculty, coach or employer.

The Power of the Clicker

When animal trainers train pets or even wild animals, they often use a clicker. It’s a small instrument that makes a clicking sound whenever the pet responds well. Even if that animal takes a small step in the right direction, the trainer clicks. When Ivan Pavlov experimented with dogs a hundred years ago, he verified this reality that we now call: Classical Conditioning. Pavlov observed dogs salivating when he rang a bell, knowing it was followed by a bowl of food. As soon as the dog heard the bell it began to salivate. When we use this “classical conditioning” with students, we’ll retain them in the learning experience. It could be a special word we speak, a noise, a whistle, a song stanza, you name it, but learners will associate it with success and experience what psychologist Robert Eisenberger called: “Learned Industriousness.” Suddenly, they internalize the message: Keep going. Don’t give up. You’re almost there. For students, it causes their brains to send chemicals through their bodies—positive chemicals—that progress is being made. Pavlov soon found that even when a bowl of food didn’t show up, the dog would still salivate. It sparks internal motivation.

When Teaching Something You Mastered to Disinterested Students

Below is a simple list to get you started as you attempt to motivate students to learn something they have no natural inclination to learn:

1. Remember what you felt when you first learned the topic.

Try recalling the frustration and epiphanies you had as you began. If it’s difficult, try an exercise of writing your name with your opposite hand. It’s hard because it’s unfamiliar. Bingo.

2. Remember what steps you took when you first comprehended it.

Next, jot down the sequence of steps that took place which enabled you to understand the subject matter. What phases or “mini-discoveries” built a habit of comprehension in you?

3. Test your pedagogy on a single student and note what works for them.

Then, beta-test these steps off of your own children or a niece or nephew, someone you know well. Did it help them connect even if the subject was unfamiliar? Did they suggest a new one?

4. Choose the “clicker” you’ll use to stimulate or inspire your students to more effort.

Next, select your stimuli and reward for each step of mastery in your students. What if you played a quick song or short, funny video to signal they just improved? Pick your clicker.

5. Reinforce their effort with consistent use of the clicker, along with encouragement.

Utilize this clicker to reinforce new habits of “learned industriousness.” It will take weeks, but a stimulus and some words of genuine encouragement can go a long way with your students.

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