Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Helping students create choices

Students love choices.

The ability to chart one's own course is very enticing, especially to a student longing to spread her wings and be more independent.  As schools recognize the potential benefits of student choice, the desire to choose on the part of the student can sometimes outrun the school's willingness to offer more choices.

We see this, for example, in middle grades when students have been given "bite sized" chunks of independence and choice.  After 6th or 7th grade, these students will beam with joy when asked about the "freedom" they get in middle school.  Fast forward 2 years.  Now, these same students are 9th graders.  When asked about choice and freedom, these same students who praised the middle school will often talk about how few choices they had in 6th-8th grade, only to announce that they are finally being given a chance to be independent.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, students love choices.  Speaking from the perspective of a school administrator, I love giving students choices.  However, managing choices and understanding the "big picture" are qualities that students (and some adults) struggle to develop.  So, when advising students who are frustrated with their lack of choices (or frustrated with choices they do not want), I like to talk about how they can create more choices for themselves.

1.  Take care of the difficult and/or unpleasant things first.  Then, with that out of the way, you may find more time to do more of what you want to do.  If you constantly push the difficult/unpleasant tasks back, you may never feel like you have time for the easy/pleasant items.

2.  Ask for them.  If you feel you are ready to have more choices, be honest and talk to those (teachers, administrators, parents, etc.) and make your case for being able to handle more.

3.  Choices, like trust, is often earned.  It is rare that a lack of choice is a result of a philosophical belief as much as a fear or concern that one isn't ready for more.  By responsibly taking care of the choices you have, you will find it easier to get more of the choices you want.

4.  Think of others.  Students who make decisions with others in mind demonstrate emotional and social maturity.  Teachers, parents, and administrators place great value on emotional and social maturity.  Students who consistently demonstrate an ability to make wise choices based on more than selfish reasons are in a better position to create more opportunities to demonstrate that quality.

5.  Ask for help.  One sign of maturity is knowing when to, and actually asking for help.  Knowing that students are ready and willing to seek help when needed is important to those tasked with providing the help.  Having choices doesn't mean being left alone.  Sometimes, new choices emerge - such "What do we do now?"  Having the maturity to ask for help is a good way to create more choices in the future.

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