...not necessarily education - oh my!
Knowing what I know about our education system and all the hard working people trying to make the system work for the youth in our communities, I appreciate you! Educators have a noble yet challenging path and too many burn out trying to make that difference they desperately want to make.
Parents, you too! You are doing all that you feel is within your scope and power to have that impact on your child that will make them successful in our world. I appreciate you, too.
For 25 years I was that teacher (and parent) who lost nights of sleep thinking about all the ways I could help my students (and my own kids) feel they mattered and that they could be as successful as they desired. I think based on what others have told me that I did it successfully; I left teaching at my peak for sure.
Over the course of my career, I struggled inside the system and felt shackled and limited in my capacity to make a difference. Unhelpful patterns of practice were on repeat and year after year, I'd see on the first day of school that I'd be starting from scratch again.
At the root of my teaching practice, I always just seemed to KNOW that if every kid felt they belonged, they were capable, and they were contributors to the school community that they would be successful overall. Yet, I felt like I was constantly in an uphill battle year after year, class after class trying to undo the damage that was being done to our kids whether by society, the community, the systems, the adults.
The anecdotal proof was in the pudding. And let's be clear, there's also tons of data to back me up.
As an educator...
On one end of the learning spectrum, I witnessed students who fit the system really well have an elevated sense of self that they sometimes lorded over others which to me was a signal of insecurity in other areas of their life. Still, they did well in school, connected easily with others, and they certainly believed in themselves.
On the other end, I witnessed students who struggled, who clearly existed in a constant state of stress while in the system and yet were held to the same standards and expectations of those for whom the system worked. Their insecurities were on display day after day and to no one's surprise they also had behavioural issues and likely struggled maintaining friendships. Their sense of connection and self was poor and society's systems unintentionally kept it that way.
Right down the middle were the students who could go either way depending on the day, the month, the year or whatever stressors they were currently navigating.
I have often witnessed those kids who did really well in school end up following a path that made others happy. They went to the "right" school. They got the "right" degree. They got the "right" job. And they did it in just the "right" amount of time. They believed others knew best and found it easier to please those "others" rather than engaging in thoughtful self-discovery and taking a "messier" route to discovering their more rewarding life path. We've all had that doctor, that accountant, that lawyer or other professional whom we could just tell was not happy in their job because it wasn't their life's dream; it was someone else's. AND what did we do? We didn't trust their knowledge, their skills, and noticed their lack of interest and probably we didn't return. BUT we remember that person who did not follow their passion and how miserable they seemed.
Why on earth would we ever encourage our youth to follow such a path?!
I have also witnessed kids who were super passionate about a field - medicine, law, engineering, STEM, etc. - who struggled in school due to challenging circumstances whether just being kids/teens or having learning disabilities - so were unable to get into that class or post secondary program because their grade 12 Math or English was 2 grade points shy of the requirement. If asked, everyone else could see how that kid would be an incredible asset in that field and that it was so unfortunate that the current system was unable to adjust their programming to suit how that kid learned best. Now that field is missing out on that passion, that brain, and that human who is super energized about that field. Perhaps that kid ends of going down a destructive path that we could have prevented had we supported them properly in their time of need.
As a student...
Let me illustrate how paramount context/environment and connection are through my own personal experiences.
I always was a decent student in Math and never really found it difficult. My grades were good until my grade 12 year in Algebra. It was a year long course and our system back then allowed us to pick our teachers, so I chose my grade 11 Math teacher to be my grade 12 teacher because I learned really well from him. Unfortunately, there were a couple teenage-related experiences that stressed me out that year AND I ended up in a Math class with a large group of peers who didn't seem too interested in being in class and they engaged in a lot of disruptive, rude behaviours which my teacher didn't manage well - class was a regular gong show. As a quiet student, the chaos in the class was super uncomfortable and caused me to shut down...TOTAL STRESS RESPONSE! I should not have passed, but I think the teacher gave me 50% just so that I would have the prerequisites for at least one post secondary school which was very kind of him, but my belief in my ability to do harder Math had plummeted.
In college, because my grade 12 grade Math was so low, they required me to upgrade. In retrospect, this was a brilliant move and led to my first realization of the importance of environment and connection. The college Math classroom environment was calm and I was among students who wanted to be there. Clearly, this made all the different because I aced the course with ease and my belief in my ability to do challenging Math improved.
Over the course of my post secondary years, I routinely made connections between how I felt in a class and my success in that class. When I felt comfortable, connected with peers and the teacher/professor, I performed very well and learned a ton. My two years at Kwantlen were very productive and to this day I recall a lot of my learning. Lessons weren't necessarily exciting or entertaining, but the environment was conducive to learning.
My 3 years at UBC were much different. My teachers/professors rarely made efforts to get to know their students. I was in large classes. Many of my peers seemed too eager to prove their superiority. I had very few meaningful connections during my time at UBC and my learning was only for the test and barely registered. The focus seemed more on the professors and their areas of strength rather than the students' learning. In the odd class in which the educators made efforts to relate and connect like in my small group communications class, I did my best learning, discovered new skills, learned about myself, and made some nice connections with peers. The lessons were so simple yet powerfully meaningful.
As a parent...
My observations extended to my own two children as I watched them navigate their worlds. To this day, when the right things are in place, good things happen. Even as young adults, they are still influenced by the experienced adults in their worlds and until their brains have finished developing which could take until they are 25 years old, that impact could be destructive or constructive. It will take time and experience for my kids to fully recognize and trust in their potential, so it is still up to the adults in their worlds to show them how to be their best selves for themselves and to chase what lights them up because that is how they will become meaningful contributors in our world.
to sum it up...
My 50 years on this earth has shown me the true determinants of success:
with self, friends/family, community
strong sense of self-efficacy
belief in self to learn new things, tackle challenges
understanding of self and how one is wired
an ultimate life vision based on core values, dreams, and steps to get there
ability to become the best version of oneself
When one or more of these is out of whack, success is slowed, halted, or stopped. In some cases, one might appear successful on the outside, but are wilting or actually suffering on the inside. It takes some of us all the way into midlife to finally acknowledge that what we have done with our life has not been FOR us and now we are struggling with our health, unhappy in our careers, frustrated with our life choices and/or dysfunctional in our relationships.
The good news!
It truly is never too late to change,
to learn about yourself,
to find your passion,
to live your own version of success
that feeds your heart, your soul, your body, your mind.
All it takes is one step in one perfectly aligned direction for you.